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Prosecutor: Jurors will hear 'ugly details' in Dawson trial

May 31, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Jurors seated in the trial of Thomas A. Dawson were told Wednesday that they would hear "ugly details" about the death of the man's stepmother, who he allegedly attacked with a claw hammer in August 2006.

In opening statements, Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela J. Games-Neely said Jeannette K. Dawson, of 345 Blair St. in the Berkeley Village subdivision, was struck in the head 15 times with a hammer in a bedroom attack on the morning of Aug. 30, 2006.

"The entire back of her head was gone," Games-Neely told the eight men and six women (including two alternates) selected from a jury pool of 37 Berkeley County residents.

Thomas Dawson, who lived next door to his stepmother at 343 Blair St., was indicted in February on counts of first-degree murder, felony murder, first-degree arson and burglary.

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On Wednesday, Games-Neely asserted that Thomas Dawson was the only family member who police determined knew the details of his stepmother's death, which she said came after her husband left for work sometime after 5 a.m.

Emergency dispatchers were contacted about Jeannette Dawson's apparent death at 5:38 p.m. by Thomas Dawson's grandmother, Emma Jean Dawson. Dawson lived with his grandmother, who testified last week that she was awarded custody of him when he was 2 years old.

On Wednesday, Games-Neely acknowledged that Jeannette Dawson's husband, Howard J. "Jimmy" Dawson, initially was a suspect in the case and that he had a history of domestic violence with his wife in their nearly 15 years of marriage, but he ultimately was cleared by police.

"You are going to hear some ugly details in this case," Games-Neely said of the couple's apparent "love-hate relationship."

In his opening statement, defense attorney Sherman L. Lambert said he intended to prove that his client was the black sheep of a dysfunctional family and willingly became the "sacrificial lamb" in Jeannette Dawson's murder.

"He's saying he will give you all that he has - that all that he wants is his father's love," Lambert said of his client's motive for lying to police.

Lambert said Thomas Dawson intentionally confessed to the crime to provide cover for his father after a family meeting the night before talking to State Police investigators.

Police have alleged that Thomas Dawson attempted to destroy evidence after the attack by setting a fire with a grill lighter in the bedroom.

Two paramedics and a firefighter told jurors the fire was out by the time they arrived.

Bedington Volunteer Fire Department Capt. Dennis Carter said the fire appeared to "put itself out," and a thermal imaging camera helped firefighters determine the same.

Carter said no fire was found in the walls of the mobile home or in the mattress where coils had been exposed, but the smoke damage made it difficult for West Virginia State Police to recover fingerprints, said Cpl. H.C. Myers, who is expected to return to the witness stand today as part of the state's presentation of evidence.

Myers testified Wednesday that investigators believed Jeannette Dawson was shot in the head before her body was moved.

Myers also said that it didn't appear the woman was a robbery victim, confirming that her wallet contained her credit cards, and the bedroom dresser drawers appeared relatively in order.

There was "a sock or two hanging out, nothing like it was torn apart, nothing like that," Myers said.

Games-Neely said Jeannette Dawson's hands were broken and she received injuries to her neck and arm, and was severely burned.

"Nobody in that family knew how she died (except for Thomas Dawson)," Games-Neely said.

Transcripts of phone conversations from Eastern Regional Jail and letters to his grandmother would support the state's case against him, she said.

Games-Neely said police considered Jeannette Dawson's husband to be a suspect because of their rocky marriage, and family members told police that he didn't treat her "the way they thought she should be treated."

Lambert elaborated on Howard Dawson's reported history with his wife. He claimed Thomas Dawson, though troubled with alcohol and drug-use issues of his own, "did not have a vile, vicious bone in his body."

"You just don't do these things overnight - It's in ya," Lambert said.

Wednesday's proceedings were delayed when 14 prospective jurors were late arriving to 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders' courtroom. Five residents failed to appear, and Sanders had the Circuit Clerk's office randomly contact 10 more residents as a precaution. Only two of those appeared, but ultimately were not seated.

The trial is expected to continue into next week.

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