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Fatal stabbing started as fight over ex-girlfriend

July 03, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A fight between two former friends that left one of the men dead from a stab wound began when the victim began provoking the other man, according to court testimony Tuesday.

Chandra Gray had just broken up with the victim, Justin Lawson, and began dating Thomas Dale Sims, also known as "T.J," according to testimony in Sims' voluntary manslaughter trial that got under way in Berkeley County Circuit Court.

Lawson was angry when he saw Sims walking along Church Street in downtown Martinsburg on June 8 last year, according to testimony.

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Lawson, 18, of 613 Faulkner Ave., Martinsburg, "whipped around the corner" in a van, got out of the van and began throwing punches at Sims, Gray testified.

"He said, 'Come on T.J., let's get this over with,''' said Shaketa Redman, recalling Lawson's words.

Lawson punched Sims at least three times, Gray said.

Sims, also of Martinsburg, took a swing at Lawson, Redman said.

Lawson lifted up his shirt and noticed blood on his chest, Redman testified.

Police believe Sims stabbed Lawson, which caused damage to the right ventricle of his heart.

Lawson made a comment like "I'm crazy, I love this," and continued to chase Sims, Redman said.

Lawson finally ran toward a cemetery along Church Street and collapsed, witnesses testified.

"His shirt was covered in blood and his eyes rolled back in his head," witness Andrew Walls testified.

Lawson was flown to Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Va., where he later died.

Some people were laughing because they did not believe it was a serious fight, Redman said.

The altercation occurred in broad daylight near Brown Funeral Home and the King Street Coffee and Tobacco Emporium at the corner of King and Church streets.

Sims, who was indicted for voluntary manslaughter by a Berkeley County grand jury, faces three to 15 years in prison if convicted, Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said.

Games-Neely said she believed a stronger charge was not brought against Sims because there was no sign of premeditation in Lawson's death.

A plea agreement between the sides was worked out in which Sims would plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and be sentenced to three years in prison, Games-Neely said.

But Lawson's mother, Vicki Lawson, did not approve of the plea agreement, Games-Neely said.

Lawson's mother wanted Sims to go to trial and be "uncomfortable," Games-Neely said.

In cases involving "personal violence," the family of the victim can have a say on whether a plea agreement can be accepted, Games-Neely said.

Berkeley County Circuit Judge David Sanders ruled the trial could proceed when Lawson's mother objected to the plea agreement, Games-Neely said.

The jury can find Sims guilty of voluntary manslaughter; guilty of involuntary manslaughter, which carries up to a year in jail; or not guilty, Games-Neely said.

The trial may be completed today, Games-Neely said.

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