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Man convicted in stabbing death

July 04, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

A Berkeley County man faces less than a year in jail after he was convicted Wednesday of involuntary manslaughter in the stabbing death of a former friend.

Thomas Dale Sims Jr., also known as "T.J.," had been indicted for voluntary manslaughter in the death of Justin Lawson, a charge which carries a prison sentence of 3 to 15 years.

Involuntary manslaughter carries a punishment of up to a year in jail, according to Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely

Sims has served 283 days in the Eastern Regional Jail, Games-Neely said.

Although there was little reaction to the verdict when it was read Wednesday afternoon in Circuit Court Judge David Sander's courtroom, Lawson's mother later criticized how the Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney's office handled the case.

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Witnesses testified in the trial that a fight between Sims and Lawson started when Lawson began provoking Sims near the intersection of King and Church streets in downtown Martinsburg on June 8 last year.

Chandra Gray had just broken up with Lawson, 18, of 613 Faulkner Ave., Martinsburg, and began dating Sims, according to testimony.

Lawson was mad when he located Sims, of 426 Winchester Ave., walking near Church Street, witnesses testified. Lawson "whipped around the corner" in a van and began throwing punches at Sims, Chandra Gray, Lawson's former girlfriend, testified.

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

There was debate in the trial about how big Lawson was at the time of his death.

Attorney Craig Manford, who represented Sims, said Lawson weighed 20 to 30 pounds more than his client. Manford asked the jury to consider that in their deliberations, including the fact that Lawson had threatened to beat up Sims.

Vicki Lawson, the victim's mother, criticized the prosecutor's office for never requesting her son's driver's license to determine how big he was. Anyone could have seen from his description on the license that he was a "string bean," Vicki Lawson said outside the courthouse after the verdict.

Lawson said she was also "kept in the dark" on some matters, including the fact that one of the witnesses in the case saw Sims chasing Lawson after Lawson was stabbed.

Sims is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 26 at 1 p.m.

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