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Murder trial slated to begin Wednesday in Berkeley Co.

May 28, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A mental evaluation of a man accused of killing his stepmother in a claw hammer attack last summer shows he is competent to stand trial, his defense attorney told 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders on Friday during a pretrial hearing.

The trial for Thomas A. Dawson, 22, of 343 Blair St. in the Berkeley Village subdivision, is scheduled to begin Wednesday morning with jury selection.

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 in the Aug. 30, 2006, death of Jeannette K. Dawson, 41, of 345 Blair St.

The results of the mental evaluation, which were given to Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela J. Games-Neely last Wednesday, apparently revealed Dawson has no diminished capacity or incompetence.

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Sanders said the doctor appropriately concluded in his report that he could not make a determination with a "reasonable degree of certainty" that Dawson gave a false confession, as defense attorney Sherman L. Lambert has asserted.

Sanders also denied a defense motion to dismiss the indictment, which Lamber argued should be considered because the crime scene had been substantially compromised.

"Where is the alleged claw hammer? We don't know," Lambert said.

Games-Neely later said that the defendant told police he threw it into a quarry after striking his stepmother multiple times in the head.

Sanders denied Games-Neely's request to present 404B evidence to the jury. Such evidence typically is used to show similar motive, opportunity or a pattern by the accused, but is not linked directly to the charges in question.

Games-Neely had Dawson's grandmother testify Friday about how she suspected her grandson of stealing from her before the homicide Aug. 30. But Sanders ruled her testimony was too vague and "overly speculative," particularly because her testimony included no specific evidence of Dawson committing a crime.

After hearing from two West Virginia State Police troopers regarding Dawson's statements to them, Sanders also ruled they were admissible and that the accused had not been coerced.

State Police Sgt. D.E. Boober said Dawson appeared "sluggish" the first time he talked to him about his stepmother's death outside his girlfriend's house in the trooper's cruiser.

In subsequent interviews, Boober and polygraph examiner Trooper K.R. Pansch testified that Dawson was amenable to talking to them and did not request legal counsel.

Lambert argued that his client was under the influence of alcohol and drugs in at least one interview. Pansch did confirm that Dawson vomited at the Martinsburg Detachment headquarters during one of the two interviews there before he was arrested.

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