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Prosecutor aims to delay murder trial

May 22, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - The trial for a 22-year-old man accused of killing his stepmother last year might be delayed because the findings of a mental evaluation have yet to be shared with the state.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela J. Games-Neely filed a motion Friday to continue the trial of Thomas A. Dawson, and she said Monday that she still had not received a copy of a physician's report.

Jeannette Dawson, 41, of 345 Blair St., Berkeley Village subdivision, was found dead at her home Aug. 30, 2006, after firefighters responded to a report of a fire. Police said the fire was intentionally set after she was attacked and had interfered in her stepson's alleged robbery of the residence. Dawson was arrested in September and indicted by a grand jury in February on counts of first-degree murder, felony murder, burglary and first- degree arson.

"Because the state does not know the findings and opinion of Dr. (Joseph R.) Novello, it cannot determine if the state needs to arrange its own evaluation of the defendant," Games-Neely said in her motion, which was filed seven days before the pretrial hearing set for Friday. The trial is scheduled to begin May 30.

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Presiding 23rd Judicial Circuit judge David H. Sanders more than six weeks ago signed an order granting $9,000 to be allocated for a mental evaluation by Novello, court records show. Novello told defense attorney Sherman L. Lambert in a memo attached with the order that he charged $375 per hour.

Aside from the mental evaluation, Games-Neely last week gave notice of her intent to use 404B evidence in the state's case against Dawson. Such evidence typically is used to show similar motive, opportunity or a pattern by the accused.

In the notice, Games-Neely said Jeannette Dawson's mother-in-law had video surveillance equipment installed on her neighboring property before the woman was killed. Thomas A. Dawson's grandmother suspected he was stealing from his stepmother, Games-Neely said.

"She knew him as a habitual drug user who was generally unemployed, therefore needed to obtain funds to support his habit in other ways," Games-Neely said.

On Monday, Lambert filed a motion for additional discovery requesting that "the first nonconfessional statement of Thomas Dawson" be provided to him.

"This information was not disclosed pursuant to the defendant's original discovery requests," Lambert said.

Dawson's arrest on Sept. 5, 2006, came after he gave a second interview to police. Lambert previously said his client was willing to give a third, but noted the state declined to interview the accused again.

Last week, Sanders signed an order granting Lambert's motion for additional discovery of the cell phone records of Howard and Jeannette Dawson on Aug. 29 and 30, 2006.

The state has obtained the recordings of 89 phone calls Dawson placed from Eastern Regional Jail dating to December of last year, according to circuit court records.

Sanders has been tasked with deciding defense motions to suppress evidence police retrieved from Dawson's vehicle and the defendant's statement, which Lambert said was given without benefit of legal counsel.

Lambert also has filed motions for a bill of particulars, seeking an exact date for when Dawson was killed.

Games-Neely has asserted the date and time are not elements of the offense, court records show.

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