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Dawson guilty of murder

June 08, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - A 22-year-old Berkeley County man was found guilty Thursday of felony murder and first-degree arson in the August 2006 death of his stepmother.

A jury of five women and seven men reached the verdict after more than five hours of deliberation.

Thomas A. Dawson, of 343 Blair St. in Berkeley Village subdivision, was arrested less than a week after Jeannette K. Dawson, 41, was found dead Aug. 30 in the bedroom of the mobile home she shared with her husband, Howard J. Dawson, at 345 Blair St.

Authorities determined she was struck in the head at least 15 times, possibly with a claw hammer, and not shot as police initially believed. She died before three fires were intentionally set, apparently to destroy evidence in the home off Berkeley Station Road north of Martinsburg.

Thomas Dawson was arrested Sept. 5 after investigators determined his confession contained unique details of the crime scene, apparently not known by other family members.

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Police also said they were unable to substantiate Dawson's statement about his whereabouts on the morning of Aug. 30 and later obtained recordings of incriminating telephone conversations he had with family members from Eastern Regional Jail as well as letters indicating his apparent guilt.

In her closing arguments Thursday morning, Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela J. Games-Neely said she found at least 32 instances of the accused saying, "I'm sorry for what I did."

"Give her some justice and give her some peace," Games-Neely urged the jury after they heard 10 pages of instructions from 23rd Judicial Circuit judge David H. Sanders, who set a sentencing and post-trial motions hearing for Aug. 6.

Dawson could be eligible for parole after serving 15 years of the mandatory life sentence that comes with a felony murder conviction because jurors couldn't unanimously agree to eliminate a possible reprieve for the young man.

"We were deadlocked, your honor," a jury foreman told Sanders.

When a jury doesn't decide the issue of mercy, state law requires that such a recommendation be added, Sanders explained in writing to the jury.

For the arson conviction, Sanders is expected to decide a sentence ranging from two to 20 years. The judge also must rule whether that term should be served at the same time as the murder sentence or consecutively, Games-Neely said.

Defense attorney Sherman L. Lambert said he disagreed with the jury's verdict, reiterating his closing arguments focused on the lack of physical evidence to link his client to the murder.

"A lot of people say things they didn't do," Lambert told jurors in his closing arguments.

Lambert said that he would file an appeal with the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia if his client did not get relief through post-trial motions.

"I am very distraught about the outcome," said Dawson's mother, Barbara Redmon, who shouted to her son that she loved him before he was escorted from the courtroom. "But we will appeal this."

Games-Neely said she was "very happy" with the outcome, aside from the mercy issue.

She said a lack of evidence to suggest Dawson entered the mobile home "specifically to kill" his stepmother and his young age likely played a role in the jury's struggle with the mercy issue.

Little more than an hour into deliberations, the jury asked for a CD player and then a DVD player, apparently to review evidence that included audio recordings of Thomas Dawson's confession to a West Virginia State Police sergeant and surveillance footage of the victim's husband at an Inwood, W.Va., convenience store the morning of his wife's death.

A little more than two hours after that request was granted, the jury asked to review Thomas Dawson's "first confession" to State Police Sgt. James. H. Merrill, but was told by Sanders no recording or written account of it was made.

The panel also asked if Thomas Dawson's mail was monitored while he was in Eastern Regional Jail. Sanders responded by telling the jury there was no additional evidence for them to consider and he couldn't say whether the mail was monitored.

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