Man gets life for bludgeoning death of his stepmother

August 07, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - A Berkeley County man convicted of felony murder and first-degree arson in the death of his stepmother last year was sentenced Monday to life in prison plus 20 years during an emotional sentencing hearing.

Thomas A. Dawson, who was found guilty in June of killing Jeannette K. Dawson, was given the maximum 20-year sentence by 23rd Judicial Circuit judge David H. Sanders for the arson and a life sentence for her murder.

"This was a remorseless act ... a very troubling case," Sanders said.

Though Dawson could be eligible for parole after serving 15 years of the mandatory life sentence that comes with the felony murder conviction, Sanders said he would recommend a 50-year wait. The judge denied defense attorney Sherman L. Lambert's motions for post-verdict acquittal and a new trial, and he ordered Dawson to pay court costs and restitution yet to be determined.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely recommended 80 years in a tear-filled sentencing hearing, but after the hearing said she was satisfied with the outcome.


Because the state's Division of Corrections provides "good time credit" on a day-for-day basis, Games-Neely said Dawson's arson sentence could theoretically be cut in half.

"The realistic term is probably 25 (years) before he even sees a parole board," Games-Neely said.

Dawson, formerly of 343 Blair St. in Berkeley Village subdivision, was arrested less than a week after his 41-year-old stepmother was found dead Aug. 30 in the bedroom of the mobile home she shared with her husband, Howard J. "Jimmy" Dawson at 345 Blair St.

Authorities determined she was struck in the head at least 15 times, possibly with a claw hammer. She died before three fires were intentionally set, apparently to destroy evidence in the home off Berkeley Station Road north of Martinsburg, according to testimony heard during the trial.

In court Monday, Thomas Dawson maintained his innocence, claiming he had no reason to kill his stepmother and that his damning statements to police and family members were made out of love for his father, Jimmy Dawson. Thomas Dawson's father left the courtroom just before his son stood and addressed the court for the first time. Thomas Dawson did not testify during his trial.

"I'll take the fall," Dawson said. "That's all I've got to say."

Lambert has filed notice of intent to appeal the case and told Sanders that Dawson's lack of a criminal record supported his belief in his client's innocence.

"That's unusual for someone that is placed in this type of situation," Lambert said. "He always felt a jury would vindicate him."

Family members of Jeannette Dawson told the court Monday they wanted more punishment than the law allowed.

"I don't believe he deserves mercy," said Jeannette Dawson's mother, Shirley Hott, who sobbed through her remarks to the court. "He gave my daughter no mercy when he was killing her ... She didn't deserve this. She didn't hurt anybody."

Jeannette's sister, Annette Foley, said there was never a doubt in her mind that Dawson killed her.

"He doesn't deserve a second chance," Foley said.

Dawson's brother, Chris Hott, described Monday as "justice day for Jeannette."

"Jeannette was more than a sister - she was my friend," Hott said. "I know we will meet again some day. Until that time, I will have to hold onto precious memories."

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