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Attorney for man charged in stepmother's death enters plea

February 27, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The attorney for a Berkeley County man accused in the homicide of his stepmother in August 2006 entered not guilty pleas Monday on behalf of his client, who was named in a four-count indictment last week by a sequestered grand jury.

Thomas Anthony Dawson, 21, was arraigned on counts of first-degree murder, felony murder, burglary and first-degree arson before 23rd Judicial Circuit judge David H. Sanders.

Dawson's stepmother, Jeannette K. Dawson, of 345 Blair St. in Berkeley Village subdivision, died after being struck in the head with a claw hammer multiple times Aug. 30, 2006, police have said. She was found in the bedroom of her mobile home after firefighters were dispatched to the residence, which police said was intentionally set on fire after she was attacked. Police have said she disrupted her stepson's robbery of the home.

Sanders on Monday declined a request by defense attorney Sherman L. Lambert Sr. to set a bond for Dawson, who was being held in Eastern Regional Jail. Prosecuting Attorney Pamela J. Games-Neely told Sanders she was "adamantly opposed" to a bond being set for Dawson, who was residing next door to his stepmother, according to court records.

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An attempt by Sanders to accommodate Lambert's motion for a "speedy" trial within the shortest term of the year for the county's trial court failed after several scheduling conflicts. The proceeding was then slated for May 30, more than a week into the year's second term.

Lambert has also filed a motion to suppress any evidence police retrieved from his client's vehicle, a 1995 Mazda, and a motion to suppress the defendant's statement, which the attorney claimed was given without benefit of legal counsel. In documents filed with Circuit Clerk Virginia Sine's office, Lambert said the statement also was made "under duress and coercion" and was not truthful.

According to a complaint filed by State Police Sgt. D.E. Boober, Dawson admitted in a second interview with police that he repeatedly struck his 41-year-old stepmother in the head with a claw hammer after she interfered with his robbery of the home on Aug. 30, records show.

The fire was set in the home, but quickly extinguished. Dawson's bedroom was filled with smoke, officials have said.

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