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Jury hears recordings in W.Va. murder trial

June 06, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - West Virginia State Police Sgt. David E. Boober said Tuesday that virtually none of the blood or other forensic evidence submitted for analysis linked Thomas A. Dawson to the murder of his stepmother, Jeannette K. Dawson, on August 30, 2006.

But what the lead investigator's work lacked in substantial scientific conclusions appears to be countered by incriminating statements made by the accused.

Dawson, who lived next door to his stepmother in Berkeley Village subdivision, was indicted in February on counts of first-degree murder, felony murder, first-degree arson and burglary. He was arrested in September and has since been held without bond in Eastern Regional Jail.

Jurors seated for the fourth day of Thomas Dawson's trial heard audio recordings of his repeated admission of apparent guilt in telephone conversations with family members from the jail and his confession to police on Sept. 5, 2006.

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"I didn't mean to," Dawson was recorded telling his grandmother, Emma Jean Dawson, in a phone conversation. "It was a reaction. When she got up, I just turned around and swung (the hammer)."

The victim received at least 15 blows to the head from what investigators believe was a claw hammer. She died before her stepson allegedly attempted to destroy the evidence by fire three times, according to testimony given last week in the trial.

Upon completing presentation of the state's evidence against Dawson on Tuesday afternoon, Prosecuting Attorney Pamela J. Games-Neely told 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge David H. Sanders that she would seek convictions on counts of felony murder and first-degree arson in accordance with a statute that prevents conviction on all four indicted counts.

Defense attorney Sherman L. Lambert is expected to begin his presentation of evidence today and jurors might not be asked to decide the case until Friday.

In an audio recording of Thomas Dawson's statement to police, the accused appeared to repeatedly apologize for his stepmother's death.

"I'm sorry. I'm really sorry and I wish this never would have happened. ... I'd rather be where she's at right now," Dawson said in an interview with State Police Sgt. James H. Merrill.

Merrill said the accused admitted only that he wanted to get cigarettes and some change from the bedroom of his father, Howard J. "Jimmy" Dawson, and stepmother, but became scared when she awoke to discover him there after her husband left for work.

Jimmy Dawson told police he left for work just after 5 a.m., and Boober testified that video surveillance footage taken from an Inwood, W.Va., convenience store and shown to the jury Tuesday placed the victim's husband there about 45 minutes later.

Boober said he was unable to verify Jimmy Dawson's testimony last week that he stopped at the 7-Eleven convenience store at Berkeley Station Road and U.S. 11 to get cigarettes.

"(Unlike the Inwood store), we never found him on tape," Boober said.

Jeannette Dawson's mother, Shirley Hott, told jurors Tuesday that her initial statement to police, like those from other family members, appeared to suggest Jimmy Dawson was his wife's attacker.

"I believe in my heart that Jimmy didn't kill her," Hott said after acknowledging her daughter's often turbulent relationship with her son-in-law.

Merrill testified Tuesday that damning statements given by Thomas Dawson's father in his interview with investigators were determined to be those of a "traumatized husband."

Before Tuesday's proceedings, Sanders decided the jury would not be allowed to hear about a letter that Dawson apparently wrote to Boober during proceedings of the trial last week. The letter indicated Dawson's wish to withdraw his confession and statements to police, and that he only confessed to the murder because he was afraid of his father.

Sanders read the letter aloud before the jury was ushered into the courtroom and the judge concluded that it appeared to be an attempt by the defendant to avoid testifying and cross-examination.

Sanders decided to allow Lambert to call additional witnesses to testify, despite objections by Games-Neely that the notice of their testimony was late and did not follow procedure.

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