Friday, April 15, 2022

Vigil Today to Mark Fifth Anniversary of Josiah Lawson's Killing, Arcata Police Renew Call for Witnesses to Come Forward

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2022 at 11:50 AM

click to enlarge Charmaine Lawson is hugged by supporters at a 2019 vigil for her son, David Josiah Lawson. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Charmaine Lawson is hugged by supporters at a 2019 vigil for her son, David Josiah Lawson.
Today, on the fifth anniversary of the still unsolved killing of David Josiah Lawson, his mother is holding a 4 p.m. candlelight vigil at the courthouse to call for justice for her son and the Arcata Police Department is once again putting out the call for witnesses to come forward. 

"It is paramount that witnesses come forward," Chief Brian Ahearn said in a statement. "Our investigative team remains at the ready to respond to anyone at any time to document their statement as we continue the fact-finding process."
click to enlarge Josiah Lawson
  • Josiah Lawson

Josiah Lawson, a sophomore at then Humboldt State University, was fatally stabbed in the early the morning of April 15, 2017, amid a series of fights outside of an Arcata house party.

Kyle Zoellner, who was a 23-year-old McKinleyville resident at the time, was arrested at the scene and charged with Lawson's murder, but a Humboldt County Superior Court judge dismissed the case a few weeks later, finding there was insufficient evidence to hold him for trial.

Since then, the case has languished. Witness accounts, the APD release states, "are crucial to bringing this case back to court."

Meanwhile, Charmaine Lawson has been a constant presence in Humboldt County as she continues her call for justice, joined by other community members.

But the investigation into the her son's fatal stabbing has been troubled from the start, plagued by a series of crucial initial missteps in controlling and processing the crime scene and securing potential witnesses, and subsequent trouble getting additional witnesses to come forward and cooperate.

A February 2020 report from the National Police Foundation found that while the emergency response did everything possible to try to save Lawson's life, “many basic tenets of crime scene security and management” were not followed. The report cited a systemic failure by the police department’s then leadership to provide adequate training on crime scene management and command skills, which severely hindered the ensuing investigation.

That was followed a few months later by a Humoldt County Civil Grand Jury report, which found "failures, ineptitudes and poorly executed police work" but stated "it did not find direct evidence of racial bias."

A criminal grand jury convened in February of 2019 to hear evidence in the case voted not to indict anyone.

In July, Charmaine Lawson settled a lawsuit she filed against the city of Arcata under an agreement which included a $200,000 payment to the Lawson family as well as the city making a $25,000 donation to the David Josiah Lawson Memorial Scholarship fund and agreeing to the painting of a memorial mural.

Read the APD release below:


Five years ago today Cal Poly Humboldt sophomore student David Josiah Lawson was murdered while attending a house party in Arcata.

The Arcata Police Department continues to investigate this open murder case and continues to consult with the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office and the State of California's Attorney General's Office on investigative resources that may lead to justice in this case.

A 24-hour tip line remains open whereby information from confidential sources can be provided to APD investigators that may lead to additional tips and leads.

According to Arcata Chief of Police Brian Ahearn, the need for witnesses to come forward is necessary in order to move closer to achieving justice. "It is paramount that witnesses come forward. Our investigative team remains at the ready to respond to anyone at any time to document their statement as we continue the fact-finding process."

Anyone with information regarding the murder of Josiah Lawson is asked to call the Arcata Police Department's confidential tip line at (707) 825-2590 or APD Dispatch at (707) 822-2424.

Eyewitness accounts of what led up to, and including the murder of Josiah are crucial to bringing this case back to court.
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Kimberly Wear

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Kimberly Wear is the assistant editor of the North Coast Journal.

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