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Dawson won't testify at trial

June 07, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - The man on trial for the August 2006 homicide of his stepmother in Berkeley County Circuit Court told 23rd Judicial Circuit judge David H. Sanders on Wednesday that he would not testify in his own defense.

Thomas A. Dawson, 22, confirmed what his attorney, Sherman L. Lambert, told Sanders after jurors heard testimony from Dawson's mother, Barbara J. Snell Redmon; his maternal grandfather, Joseph Snell; and his sister, Barbara A. Dawson, among several other witnesses, including many who already testified in four days of testimony.

Lambert told Sanders he planned to recall West Virginia State Police Sgt. James. H. Merrill to the witness stand today as his last witness before Dawson's legal counsel and Prosecuting Attorney Pamela J. Games-Neely give their closing arguments.

The jury is expected to be instructed by Sanders to decide whether Dawson is innocent or guilty of felony murder and first-degree arson. If found guilty of felony murder, jurors must decide whether to attach "mercy" to the verdict, meaning Dawson could be eligible for parole after serving at least 15 years of a life sentence.

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Though jurors heard recordings of Dawson appearing to confess to killing his stepmother during the trial, Dawson's sister testified Wednesday that her brother didn't admit any involvement when she visited him at Eastern Regional Jail, where he has been held since he was arrested in September 2006.

She testified that she never knew her brother to be a violent person and that he didn't retaliate when struck by his ex-girlfriend.

"No, he's never hit me," Dawson said of her brother.

Police have alleged that he struck his stepmother, Jeannette K. Dawson, in the head with a claw hammer at least 15 times on Aug. 30, 2006, before attempting to destroy the evidence by setting three fires.

Dawson's mother said Wednesday that her son wasn't violent, but described him as a "very sad young man."

"I know in my heart he isn't capable of this," said Redmon, who claimed her son was often his father's "scapegoat."

Redmon admitted that she had been arrested several times and was recovering from addictions to drugs and alcohol.

She said Dawson's paternal grandmother and relatives took her children from her.

"She robbed him of his childhood and now they're trying to rob him of the rest of his life," Redmon said during a heated cross-examination by Games-Neely.

When asked what she provided for her son, who did not graduate from high school after getting in trouble for marijuana possession, Redmon said she had given him his life.

"And I've given him love ... (His dad) could have at least been a father to him," Redmon said of Howard J. "Jimmy" Dawson, whom she left after five years.

Redmon said she never married Jimmy Dawson and said he caused her to have a miscarriage and had beaten her.

"He said that he would kill me if I ever left him," Redmon said.

Emma Jean Dawson testified Wednesday that she paid Lambert $10,000 in cash to represent her grandson, with the hope the attorney would "get him off with mercy." She previously indicated she had cared for Thomas Dawson since he was 2 years old and tried to get him into counseling to combat his drug problems and habit of physically cutting himself.

Emma Jean Dawson also shared an account of Jimmy Dawson's fight with his son, but noted that neither pursued charges against the other after police arrived.

Her husband, Willie R. Dawson, said his grandson was "out of his mind, crazy" during the fight, and he had held him down to break up the melee.

"I was trying to keep him from hurting us," Willie Dawson said.

Jimmy Dawson testified Wednesday that he didn't have a close relationship with his son, who he added had a problem with using illegal drugs.

"I couldn't do nothing with him," Jimmy Dawson said.

Snell recounted being attacked from behind by Jimmy Dawson in 1983 and said medical personnel told him that his strong muscular structure in his neck saved his life.

"I passed out, down on the floor I went," Snell said of the incident.

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