Friday, December 6, 2019

AG Won't Take Lawson Case

Posted By on Fri, Dec 6, 2019 at 3:10 PM

The California Attorney General's Office has informed Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming that it will not be taking responsibility for any possible prosecution related to the 2017 killing of David Josiah Lawson.

click to enlarge David Josiah Lawson - SUBMITTED
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"Absent a reusable conflict of interest, the Attorney General's Office generally only takes over a prosecution handled by a district attorney when there is an abuse of discretion," reads the letter penned by Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Laurence. "The district attorney is given broad discretion in prosecuting criminal cases because she is the official who has been elected by that county to act as its public prosecutor. Based on our internal review of the case, we could not find evidence that you abused your discretion in how you handled the prosecution of this case."

Fleming reached out to the Attorney General's Office back in April, just weeks after a criminal grand jury convened to look at evidence in the Humboldt State University sophomore's killing declined to indict anyone in the case. In her request, Fleming maintained that her office had "made the right decisions and taken appropriate actions at ever step" in the case but was asking for the AG's intervention because public perception of her office's handling of the case had been "influenced by misinformation in the public arena from people with legal or law enforcement backgrounds who have been involved with the case."

Lawson was fatally stabbed around 3 a.m. on April 15, 2017, at an off-campus party. A then 23-year-old McKinleyville man, Kyle Zoellner, was arrested at the scene and charged with Lawson's murder but a Humboldt County Superior Court judge ruled weeks later there was insufficient evidence to hold him to stand trial and dismissed the case. Zoellner was also the focus of the criminal grand jury convened in February but the jury, in an outcome legal experts deemed rare, declined to hand up an indictment in the case.

Protests followed the grand jury's decision, with some — including Lawson's mother, Charmaine Lawson — publicly calling for Fleming's recall and pleading with the Attorney General's Office to intercede in the case.

The case — currently Arcata's only unsolved homicide — remains under investigation, with Charmaine Lawson and Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn having recently recorded a PSA pleading for witnesses to come forward.

In the letter, Laurence notes the office is "deeply saddened" by Lawson's "tragic death" and offers condolences to the Lawson family and the local community.

"We mourn the tragic loss of Mr. Lawsons' life," the letter states. "However, we could not find evidence that calls for the Department of Justice's intervention in the case, and will not be taking any further action in this matter."

See the full press release from the District Attorney's Office copied below. Fleming's letter to the AG can be found here, with the AG's reply here.


NEWS RELEASE

December 6, 2019

On December 5th, the California Attorney General’s Office informed Humboldt County District Attorney (DA) Maggie Fleming that it would not be assuming responsibility for the prosecution in the David Josiah Lawson homicide.

DA Fleming had requested that the California Attorney General’s Office take the Lawson case in April of this year (letter attached to this press release). Her letter making the request asserted that given perceptions in a segment of the community about the role of the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office in the case, assumption of the case by the Attorney General could help to maintain confidence in the criminal justice system.

In choosing not to assume responsibility for the case (letter attached to this press release), the Attorney General’s Office stated that it takes cases when county District Attorneys have a conflict of interest or when they have abused their discretion in handling a case. The Attorney General concluded that neither of those conditions apply.

In response to the Attorney General’s decision, DA Fleming said: “As my original letter to the Attorney General stated, we have made the right decisions and taken appropriate actions at every step in the Lawson case. During my tenure as District Attorney, our Office has a strong record of success in prosecuting homicide cases. We will continue to vigorously, effectively, and ethically prosecute all violent crimes in Humboldt County whenever possible.”
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