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Father of accused takes witness stand in W.Va. murder trial

June 01, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The husband of a 41-year-old Berkeley County woman who was murdered last year testified in court Thursday that his son offered to confess to the crime to shield his father from any more scrutiny by police.

Thomas A. Dawson is on trial for first-degree murder, felony murder, first-degree arson and burglary.

Before Dawson, 22, was arrested Sept. 5 and charged with his stepmother's murder, Howard J. "Jimmy" Dawson was questioned about the death of his wife, Jeannette K. Dawson.

Before Jimmy Dawson knew that West Virginia State Police had cleared him of the crime committed Aug. 30, 2006, he said his only son's offer to confess upset him and that he told him never to say something like that.

"He told my sister he did it," Jimmy Dawson said during direct examination by Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela J. Games-Neely.

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Thomas A. Dawson resided with his grandparents and next door to his father and stepmother at 343 Blair St.

Jimmy Dawson said he learned of his wife's death in a phone conversation with his father while driving home from a construction site in Winchester, Va. Investigators were photographing his home and collecting evidence when he arrived.

Dawson said he dropped to his knees and was crying when his son arrived, comforted him and vowed "we'll get the (people) that did this."

"I was praying she was going to walk out that door," Dawson said of his wife of more than 10 years. Instead, she was carried out of the home in a body bag, according to testimony by Berkeley County Medical Examiner David W. Brining.

Jimmy Dawson said he didn't know his wife was struck 15 times with a blunt object that police have alleged was a claw hammer. The weapon was never found, but police said Dawson's son told them he threw it into a quarry.

Jimmy Dawson is expected to return to the witness stand today in 23rd Judicial Circuit judge David H. Sanders' courtroom as part of Games-Neely's presentation of evidence. In the second day of trial, jurors also heard testimony from West Virginia State Police troopers H.C. Myers, S.B. Huffman and Z.L. Nine, state deputy chief medical examiner Hamada Mahmoud and Thomas Dawson's grandparents, Willie R. "Richard" and Emma Jean Dawson.

Brining and Mahmoud's testimony indicated that Dawson's wife was not alive when three fires were intentionally set in the home after she was attacked.

The fires went out, but not before severely burning Dawson and generating a layer of soot that covered practically everything, except for a partially burned Pepsi box found on a living room couch, Brining said.

In addition to the star-shaped wounds on Dawson's head, Mahmoud was able to explain the location of burns, several lacerations, bruises, and bone fractures and breaks through the use of several photographs shown to the jury.

"Mrs. Dawson was not alive when the fire started," said Mahmoud, who also added that no alcohol or drugs were found in her system through toxicology testing.

Mahmoud said the burns on Dawson's thighs were particularly unique in his experience, but noted there was no "splash over" evidence to suggest a liquid was used in the fire, and it wasn't electrical. Brining said a third fire was started on a mattress.

Authorities believe Dawson was killed sometime after her husband left for work just after 5 a.m. on Aug. 30.

Emma Jean Dawson called 911 for help at 5:38 p.m. She told jurors that she thought the victim was still alive when she discovered her body off to one side of the master bedroom in the mobile home because her legs were still warm. Emma Jean Dawson also said she believed that an apparent fire caused Jeannette Dawson to collapse.

The fires put out themselves, according to Brining, but Emma Jean Dawson said the heat trapped inside the mobile home nearly took her breath away when she opened the door after the victim didn't respond to her knocking.

"It came out so hard, I couldn't hardly get my breath," she said.

Brining and Mahmoud could not provide a time of death for Dawson, whose husband said he kissed her good-bye after she woke him after the alarm clock went off for the third time.

Games-Neely had Emma Jean Dawson read four letters that Thomas A. Dawson, who the family knew as "Buck," sent her from jail after he was arrested.

"I turned the letters over to police because Buck started saying he didn't do it," she said.

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