Crime

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

'This is Heartbreaking:' Vigil Commemorates Second Anniversary of Lawson's Killing

Posted By on Tue, Apr 16, 2019 at 11:35 AM

Charmaine Lawson speaks to the crowd gathered to honor her son and demands justice for him on the second anniversary of his killing. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Charmaine Lawson speaks to the crowd gathered to honor her son and demands justice for him on the second anniversary of his killing.
Encircled by more than 100 people at the center of the Arcata Plaza during a candlelight vigil on the second anniversary of her son’s death, Charmaine Lawson took the microphone and fell silent. She took off her red hat with “Josiah” embroidered across the back, doubled over and wept until a friend embraced her. She collected herself and started again.

“I really don’t have much to say,” she said. “This is really emotional. I want to thank you guys for continuing to show up for my son, for continuing to show up for my family, for continuing to show up for this community. I don’t even know what to say. This is heartbreaking.”

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Friday, March 29, 2019

DA Fleming Will Ask the Attorney General's Office to Handle Prosecution in Lawson Case

Posted By on Fri, Mar 29, 2019 at 5:51 PM

David Josiah Lawson - SUBMITTED
  • Submitted
  • David Josiah Lawson

Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming will formally ask the state Attorney General’s Office to handle prosecution of the David Josiah Lawson case going forward.


“Next week I will make a formal, in-writing request to the Attorney General’s Office to take over any future prosecution of the case,” she said in a release today. The release ended with a caveat: “However, I should point out that the Attorney General is under no statutory obligation to take the case.”


In the release, which was also a response to Charmaine Lawson, Fleming stated: “I agree with Ms. Lawson that any future prosecution should be handled by the appropriate state-level agency." However, she added that the Attorney General only takes on prosecution of cases if there is a conflict of interest for the current agency. She added that the AG previously decided not to take on the case because it found no conflict of interest in Humboldt County’s District Attorney’s Office, however, she has decided to formally ask the AG to take on prosecution of the case due to public perception. Fleming cites “misinformation” from media coverage as the prime source of the public's suspicion about a conflict of interest.


“How has the perception of a conflict of interest developed? In part through media coverage that has given extensive exposure and credence to people who have provided misinformation,” Fleming wrote.

Charmaine Lawson, mother of the Humboldt State University sophomore who was fatally stabbed at an off-campus party in April of 2017, issued a statement yesterday criticizing the Arcata Police Department's handling of the homicide investigation, calling it "beyond negligent."

She also urged Fleming to ask the state Department of Justice to intervene in the case.

A McKinleyville man, Kyle Zoellner, was arrested at the scene of Josiah Lawson's stabbing and charged with his murder but a Humboldt County Superior Court judge dismissed the charges against Zoellner a few weeks later, saying prosecutors had insufficient evidence to hold him to stand trial. APD continued investigating the case and again turned it over to the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office in November, with then interim Police Chief Rick Ehle saying detectives had found "unequivocal physical evidence" linking a specific suspect to Lawson's death, but on March 13 prosecutors announced that a criminal grand jury had decided not to indict "any persons" in the case, which has now been sent back to APD for further investigation.

The example Fleming provides in her release refers to Ehle's statement. She went on to say, "When asked about that statement by the District Attorney’s Office, Mr. Ehle claimed to have been misquoted. The distribution of misinformation about ongoing cases is unprofessional, potentially cruel and damaging to people involved, and contrary to the pursuit of justice."

Fleming also responded to Lawson’s request for the criminal grand jury transcripts, saying her office is legally unable to provide them. Fleming further points to complicating factors regarding the DNA evidence, noting, "simply finding the DNA of a person known to have been bloodied in an altercation on a weapon associated with that altercation provides little or no new information about the incident," and that "DNA from multiple contributors can complicate the interpretation of DNA evidence."


Read the full press release below:


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Charmaine Lawson 'Outraged' at APD's Press Release, State of Investigation into Son's Killing

Posted By on Fri, Mar 29, 2019 at 10:56 AM

Charmaine Lawson calls on the community to continue to demand justice for her son. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Charmaine Lawson calls on the community to continue to demand justice for her son.
Charmaine Lawson, the mother of slain Humboldt State University sophomore David Josiah Lawson, issued a statement yesterday criticizing the Arcata Police Department's handling of the homicide investigation, calling it "beyond negligent."

The statement came in response to an APD press release issued Wednesday that announced the creation of a 24-hour tip line in the case and asked for the public's help identifying potential witnesses in five surveillance photos taken near the scene of Lawson's April 15, 2017, stabbing death.

“I ... was disheartened and outraged at the press release issued yesterday from the Arcata Police Department (APD),” she said. “For the first time after almost two years of allegedly investigating the murder of my first born son, APD set up a 24-hour tip line and released images of potential witnesses. Why weren’t these actions taken two years ago?"


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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

APD Seeks Public's Help in Lawson Case

Posted By on Wed, Mar 27, 2019 at 2:45 PM

If you recognize anyone in this picture, the Arcata Police Department asks that you call (707) 825-2590. - APD
  • APD
  • If you recognize anyone in this picture, the Arcata Police Department asks that you call (707) 825-2590.
With the investigation into the 2017 stabbing death of Humboldt State University sophomore David Josiah Lawson back in its lap, the Arcata Police Department is asking for the public's help in identifying witnesses.

The department sent out a press release this afternoon announcing that it has set up a 24-hour tip line — (707) 825-2590 — for members of the public to call with information about Lawson's death, adding that callers can remain anonymous if they choose.

Additionally, the department has released five still photos pulled from "video obtained near the crime scene" with the hopes that members of the public can identify the people in them, as they may be potential witnesses in the case.

Lawson was fatally stabbed April 15, 2017, at an off-campus party near Alliance Road. Police arrested a McKinleyville man, Kyle Zoellner, at the scene but a judge later dismissed a murder charge against him, finding prosecutors hadn't presented enough evidence to hold him to stand trial, sending the case back to the investigation phase. In November, APD again turned its investigation over to the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office, with then interim APD Chief Rick Ehle saying investigators and found "unequivocal physical evidence" linking a specific suspect to Lawson's slaying.

The Humboldt County District Attorney's Office convened a criminal grand jury to look into the case in late February but after hearing testimony from 28 witnesses, the jury declined to hand up any indictments. The case is now back with APD for further investigation and current APD Chief Brian Ahearn has said the case is "solvable" and pledged to "hold someone accountable."

See the photos released by APD, as well as the full press release, copied below:

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Judge Rules Mother of Stabbing Suspect Will Not Stand Trial

Posted By on Wed, Mar 27, 2019 at 10:43 AM

gavel.jpg
Several media outlets are reporting that a Superior Court judge ruled today there was insufficient evidence for the mother of a teenage accused in the fatal stabbing of another boy to stand trial for murder.

According to the Times-Standard’s article, Judge Gregory Elvine-Kreis said the prosecution’s argument that Lorna Jean Leen “acted with ‘implied malice’ or ‘aided and abetted’” her son in the killing was not established.

Leen and her son, who is being tried as a juvenile, were arrested Aug. 10, the day after 16-year-old Brandon Brocious was found fatally stabbed in the Ocean View Cemetery.

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Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Speakers Urge Arcata City Council to Seek State Help in Lawson Case

Posted By on Wed, Mar 20, 2019 at 9:55 PM

Jill Larrabee, left, waits to speak at the Arcata City Council meeting regarding the Josiah Lawson case and joined others in calling on city officials to call the DOJ or another outside agency to assist the investigation. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Jill Larrabee, left, waits to speak at the Arcata City Council meeting regarding the Josiah Lawson case and joined others in calling on city officials to call the DOJ or another outside agency to assist the investigation.

Almost two dozen people gathered in the Arcata City Hall lobby before tonight's city council meeting, prepared to ask the council to seek outside help in the David Josiah Lawson investigation after a criminal grand jury declined to hand up indictments in the case, sending it back to the Arcata Police Department for further investigation.

Lawson, a sophomore at Humboldt State University, who was fatally stabbed at an off campus party in the early morning of April 15, 2017. Kyle Zoellner, a 23-year-old McKinleyville resident, was arrested at the scene and charged with Lawson’s murder but a Humboldt County Superior Court judge dismissed the case, saying there was insufficient evidence to Zoellner to stand trial.

Interim Police Richard Ehle turned the investigation over to the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office in November, telling the Journal there’s "unequivocal physical evidence” linking a specific suspect to the murder. On March 13, the Humboldt District Attorney’s Office sent out a press release reporting that a criminal grand jury convened Feb. 28 declined to indict anyone in connection to the crime and, “therefore, no charges will be filed in this case,” the release said. (In Humboldt County, a criminal grand jury consists of 19 people, 12 of whom must to find there is “probable cause” that a crime was committed by a suspect to hand up an indictment.)

Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn vowed to continue the investigation, saying that APD will re-interview witnesses and investigate old leads. A couple of days after the announcement, Lawson’s mother, Charmaine Lawson, came to Humboldt County and spoke at HSU and the Humboldt County Courthouse about her disappointment on the criminal grand jury’s decision.

Arcata City Councilmember Sofia Pereira listens to speakers during the public comment section for non-agenda items. All of the speakers asked for the council to call for an outside agency to take on the investigation of the murder of HSU student Josiah Lawson. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Arcata City Councilmember Sofia Pereira listens to speakers during the public comment section for non-agenda items. All of the speakers asked for the council to call for an outside agency to take on the investigation of the murder of HSU student Josiah Lawson.

“We’re not going to stop fighting: This doesn’t end,” she told the crowd in front of the courthouse on Friday. “Thursday’s decision doesn’t end. (District Attorney) Maggie Fleming, if you can hear me, you have me fighting harder. I’m fighting harder.”

Between the turnouts at HSU and the courthouse, hundreds had gathered in support.

On Monday the Justice for Josiah campaign posted a call to action on Facebook: “Please use your voice and privilege to stand with Charmaine in seeking Justice for Josiah.”

When the floor at the Arcata City Council meeting opened for public comment, 11 people stood and began to form a line behind the podium. Most of them urged the city council to write to the California Department of Justice to take on the case.

“We are angry and frustrated, but this is typical,” Jill Larrabee told the council. “No one is surprised with this outcome. We are asking you to do everything in all of your power to ask the DOJ to take on the investigation and prosecution of this case. … Each and every one of you has connections and has power, use your connections to get this out of Humboldt County. … We are not going anywhere.”

Kelsey Reedy, center, an HSU alum and community member, listens to speakers asking the Arcata City Council to call for outside help in the Josiah Lawson homicide investigation. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Kelsey Reedy, center, an HSU alum and community member, listens to speakers asking the Arcata City Council to call for outside help in the Josiah Lawson homicide investigation.
Most of the speakers also asked about the Police Foundation report. Last September, Arcata hired Police Foundation, a nonprofit, to investigate APD’s controversial response the night of Lawson’s death. According to a Sept. 10 memo, Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer said the nonprofit will “review the police department’s response and to make recommendations for improving major criminal events, including response to, and investigation of, catastrophic, multiple-victim and/or multiple-witness incidents in the future,” with the report expected by the end of last year.

During public comment this evening, Richard Kossow questioned the timeline.

“Six months ago, we were told that an organization called Police Foundation had been retained to look into how the Arcata Police Department dealt with this homicide in April of 2017. I’ve heard nothing since,” he said. “It seems to me that it’s time that we start to get some kind of understanding of what that investigation has shown or some acknowledgment from you that the investigation has gone on.”

At the end of the public comment period, Diemer addressed the concerns over the Police Foundation report, saying the city received communications with the nonprofit that has completed its investigation of the report. She said the final report should be expected by May, but added that if the report indicates anything that could impede the Lawson investigation, it would not be made public. But, she added, the council intends to make the report public as soon as it is able.

After the public comment period, Mayor Brett Watson addressed speakers’ calls for the California Department of Justice to intervene.

“We have sent letters to the Department of Justice and the Attorney General and we are working on new, refreshed letters — new letters — and a new call for their help to step in,” he said, adding that the city is also recruiting local politicians to solicit their connections to seek help from the state.
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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Eureka Code Enforcement Uncovers Large Hash Lab

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2019 at 10:24 AM

eureka.jpg
A butane hash lab operation was shut down near the North Coast Co-op on Friday after Eureka Police Department officers served a search warrant, finding hundreds of pounds of cannabis trim and more than 100 pounds of liquid butane.

According to a release, the illegal operation at Third and A streets was discovered by the city’s code enforcement unit.

“Materials and equipment consistent with hash extraction and processing were also found,” the release states. “All equipment and materials were confiscated and criminal charges are being pursued against the individuals involved.”


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Saturday, March 16, 2019

'This Doesn't End;' Hundreds Attend Vigils Demanding 'Justice for Josiah'

Posted By on Sat, Mar 16, 2019 at 3:30 PM

Charmaine Lawson is hugged by supporters shortly before addressing students, faculty and the community on the HSU Quad on Friday, the 23-month anniversary of the killing of her son, David Josiah Lawson. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Charmaine Lawson is hugged by supporters shortly before addressing students, faculty and the community on the HSU Quad on Friday, the 23-month anniversary of the killing of her son, David Josiah Lawson.

Red hats, scarfs and sweaters enveloped the exterior of the Humboldt County Courthouse and “Justice for Josiah” and “I stand with Charmaine Lawson” signs sat on the steps, as Lawson began to speak.

“We’re not going to stop fighting, this doesn’t end,” she said. “Thursday’s decision doesn’t end. Maggie Fleming, if you can hear me, you have me fighting harder. I’m fighting harder.”

Lawson’s son, David Josiah Lawson, a 19-year-old Humboldt State University sophomore, was fatally stabbed at an off-campus party April 15, 2017, reportedly after being in at least two physical altercations with a 23-year-old McKinleyville man, Kyle Zoellner. Zoellner was arrested at the scene but a Humboldt County Superior Court Judge dismissed the murder charge, finding there was insufficient evidence to hold him to stand trial.

MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
Last November, interim Chief of Police Richard Ehle turned the investigation over to the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office, saying there was “unequivocal physical evidence” linking a specific suspect to the murder. But the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office sent out a press release on March 13, announcing a criminal grand jury declined to indict anyone in connection to Lawson’s stabbing and “therefore, no charges will be filed in this case.”

According to the press release, the grand jury made up of 19 jurors convened on Feb. 28 and heard testimony from 25 witnesses, including forensic experts and DNA evidence. The decision was later met with protest as a dozen people headed to the steps of the courthouse that night. Zoellner’s attorney also sent out a press release on his behalf, which you can see here.

The Friday night protest began with a song, “Amor Eterno,” played by Octavio Acosta, an HSU student. Then speakers, including Lawson, Eric Rydberg, Michihiro Clark Sugata, Mike Fennell and Shemya Vaughn, talked about their frustrations with the case and called for the community to make change and demand justice.

“We stand in front of a system that has failed,” Rydberg told the crowd. “We need to stand together in solidarity and demand justice. We’re going to stand with Charmaine and we’re not going to stop until we do.”
Charmaine Lawson calls on the community to continue to demand justice for her son. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Charmaine Lawson calls on the community to continue to demand justice for her son.
Fennell, who has grown close to the Lawson family and attended the preliminary hearing in the case, asked the white community to use its privilege to make change and also expressed the idea of recalling Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming. The crowd cheered.

“The hard work should really be on the white community up here, to help change, we can’t do it alone. It needs to be a collaboration,” Fennell said. “I think it’s time to consider a recall of our district attorney. … Even if the recall doesn’t work, we will weaken her chances in the next election.”

Before the protest ended, Lawson called up all current HSU students to stand with her at the top of the steps. Half of the crowd joined her.

“This is our future behind us,” Lawson said. “They are our future and we have to protect them. We cannot abandon them. … You all are destined for greatness and you will change the world.”
Humboldt State Student Janaee Sykes speaks to the crowd as Charmaine Lawson holds her hands. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Humboldt State Student Janaee Sykes speaks to the crowd as Charmaine Lawson holds her hands.
She then asked one of them to speak. Janaee Sykes, an HSU student and an acquaintance of Josiah’s, told the crowd to continue to fight for Josiah.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” Sykes told the Journal. “It hurts to know that he should be graduating. I just want the community to continue to support Charmaine. We owe it to her.”

Earlier in the day — in what was her first appearance in the county since the grand jury’s decision — Lawson had gone to HSU and spoke on the university quad about Fleming’s handling of the case..

“I’m am going die fighting for my son,” Lawson said. “I’m going to continue to fight.”

HSU University Police Chief Donn Peterson listens while Charmaine Lawson speaks of her son. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • HSU University Police Chief Donn Peterson listens while Charmaine Lawson speaks of her son.
In the quad, people were wiping and sniffling back tears as Lawson spoke about her son and told them stories about his character. Among the crowd stood HSU President Lisa Rossbacher, who, according to Lawson, called her Thursday and voiced genuine frustration and anger about the grand jury’s decision. Lawson then told the retiring Rossbacher not to abandon her son in the time she has left as president. She also urged the crowd to continue to fight for Josiah.

"Do not turn your back on him. Do not abandon him. Stand for him. Fight for him. Because this could have happened to anyone of you," Lawson said.

Lawson plans to attend HSU’s graduation in place of Josiah, who would have been in his last semester at the university. Until then, Lawson will continue to return to Humboldt to work on the Josiah scholarship and the housing program, “Josiah’s House.”

“Thank you all for coming out and supporting me,” she told the crowd last night in front of the courthouse. “If we have to go back to city council, so be it. If we need to shut if down, so be it. We’re not going anywhere. HSU students, I love you all and pray for your safety each and every time you leave campus, I pray for your safe return.”

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Friday, March 15, 2019

Attorney: Zoellner Thanks Jurors, Hopes Police Will Seek 'Truth' in Lawson Investigation

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2019 at 4:53 PM

Kyle Zoellner's mug shot. - ARCATA POLICE DEPARTMENT
  • Arcata Police Department
  • Kyle Zoellner's mug shot.
After a criminal grand jury targeting him opted not to issue an indictment, a McKinleyville man suspected in the stabbing death of David Josiah Lawson hopes the jury’s decision “will allow law enforcement to investigate the case from a new perspective and seek the truth,” according to a press release from his attorney.

“Kyle Zoellner would like to thank the jurors of Humboldt County for their consideration and commitment to finding the truth in the grand jury matter involving Josiah Lawson,” states the release from Deputy Public Defender Luke Brownfield. “Mr. Zoellner has now been prosecuted twice for a crime he did not commit. Each time the finder of fact has found that there is not even probable cause to believe Mr. Zoellner committed a crime.”

Since Arcata police arrived at the scene of a chaotic house party before dawn on April 15, 2017, to find Lawson, 19, bleeding from a multiple stab wounds, including one to the heart, Zoellner has been the prime suspect. Bloodied and bruised, reportedly from at least two separate fights with Lawson and his friends that night, he was arrested at the scene and charged with Lawson’s murder. But just weeks later, a Humboldt County Superior Court judge dismissed the case, finding prosecutors had failed to present enough evidence to hold him to stand trial on the charge.

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Charmaine Lawson Vows to Keep Fighting for Son, Plans to Attend Tomorrow's Vigil

Posted By on Thu, Mar 14, 2019 at 5:55 PM

Aunna Bowllmann holds a sign in front of the Humboldt County Courthouse yesterday, protesting a criminal grand jury's decision not to indict anyone in the unsolved killing of David Josiah Lawson. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Aunna Bowllmann holds a sign in front of the Humboldt County Courthouse yesterday, protesting a criminal grand jury's decision not to indict anyone in the unsolved killing of David Josiah Lawson.

The mother of slain Humboldt State University sophomore David Josiah Lawson says she won't give up in her quest to find justice for her son, despite yesterday's announcement that a criminal grand jury convened in the case declined to hand down indictments.


“I am heartbroken by the (grand jury's) decision, my family is heartbroken. We are devastated again,” Charmaine Lawson said in a voicemail left for the Journal. “I’m going to continue to fight for my son. I’m not going anywhere.”

A vigil is planned to commemorate the 23 month anniversary of Lawson's death tomorrow evening in front of the Humboldt County Courthouse. Charmaine Lawson said she plans to attend the vigil and hold a press conference in the near future.

Lawson, a 19-year-old HSU sophomore, was fatally stabbed at an off-campus party in Arcata on April 15, 2017. Kyle Zoellner, a 23 year old McKinleyville man, was arrested shortly after the stabbing but a judge later dismissed the murder charge facing him, citing insufficient evidence to hold him to stand trial.


Yesterday, the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office announced that a criminal grand jury decided not to indict anyone in connection with the stabbing after hearing testimony from more than two dozen witnesses.


The Justice for Josiah campaign sent the Journal a statement calling on community members to join the organization in front of the courthouse tomorrow at 5:30 p.m.

“If you are outraged, angered, saddened, numb or disheartened by the recent grand jury decision, take these emotions and propel them into action with us,” reads the statement, which is copied in its entirety below.



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