It took only a short while for prosecution and defense attorneys to choose a jury in the double-homicide trial in which Aaron Dean Lawson is the defendant.
A short opening statement by assistant District Attorney General Stephen Hatchett led to a longer opening by defense attorney Randy Rogers.
Lawson was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Charles “Eddie” Phillips and his wife, Debbie Phillips.
Both had suffered three gunshot wounds each, allegedly by Lawson.
The killings occurred on the evening of April 19, 2011, at their Leatha Lane residence in Charleston.
Rogers began his opening statement, explaining that Lawson suffers from bipolar disorder and that a custodial issue over the Phillipses’ then 11-year-old granddaughter had been an ongoing issue since her birth.
This particular issue evolved over a custodial visit during the upcoming Easter weekend, according to Rogers.
“It was constant turmoil if and when Aaron Lawson got to see his daughter,” Rogers said in his opening.
Hatchett alleged Lawson approached the couple from behind and “started firing at them.”
Rogers’ opening disputed Hatchett’s theory and said a third person could also have been involved in a physical altercation which he believed took place prior to the shooting.
According to Hatchett, the couple had returned home from a local restaurant, dropped off leftovers then went to a nearby convenience store. They drove back to their home and were in the pool area.
Their bodies were found several feet from each other and shell casings from a 9 mm weapon were scattered in the area.
According to testimony from lead investigator and Detective Kevin White, and previous reports after the shooting, Lawson fled the scene. He then reportedly went to his mother and father’s home located on Mouse Creek Road, where he allegedly told his mother he “didn’t have to deal with this anymore.”
According to Rogers, his mother said he was upset and put down a gun down and went to wash his hands.
His mother then hid the gun and Lawson pulled another weapon and put it to his head, threatening to harm himself if she didn’t return the other weapon to him, according to Rogers.
Lawson’s mother had contacted his father, who was en route home.
After he arrived, he attempted to talk to Lawson and begged him not to leave their home, but Aaron Lawson heard sirens and left, according to Rogers.
The couple’s pastor contacted 911 dispatchers who sent Bradley County Sheriff’s Office deputies to the Phillips home, finding their bodies, according to Rogers.
Lawson had dropped a magazine in the driveway of his mother and father’s residence which was turned over to officials in charge of the investigation.
Lawson was located the next day after he fled in his SUV to a family member’s business located on Highway 58 in Hamilton County, reports said.
According to White’s testimony, along the way, Lawson allegedly dismantled a 9 mm weapon and scattered it along the route he was alleged to have taken, which would have been through Mouse Creek, Hooper Gap and along Georgetown Road.
Law enforcement scoured a number of possible routes to find evidence of the gun.
A few days later, investigators were informed by a citizen that he had found unspent 9 mm bullets along the roadway on Hooper Gap.
Thirty-six bullets were recovered.
Rogers asked White if there were any fingerprints on the bullets.
According to White, no fingerprints were found, but the bullets were the same brand as found in the magazine recovered.
During questioning, Rogers also alleged a third person who may have been involved in the shooting.
He turned to a witness statement from a resident who had allegedly heard a banging noise such as fireworks or someone hitting on something.
The shooting was believed to have occurred after 8 p.m. Law enforcement was dispatched to the Phillipses’ home at 8:45 p.m.
A neighbor gave a statement to law enforcement that a small, possibly white vehicle had sped away from the neighborhood.
She couldn’t provide an accurate description or color, according to White’s testimony.
Rogers also turned to DNA evidence reportedly found on Lawson’s clothing.
He said it indicated Lawson’s blood as well as that of three other people, including the Phillipses’ blood.
“It didn’t match Debbie or Eddie Phillips, or Aaron Lawson,” said Rogers.
“It is reasonable to contend Aaron and Eddie Phillips were fighting,” Rogers said.
He said evidence indicated bruising on Lawson’s face and marks on his hands.
Rogers also contended the alleged other person was involved in the fight and that the case may be one of self-defense.
Rogers said the Phillipses’ also possessed handgun carry permits and typically carried handguns.
During his testimony, White said the one neighbor was the only person who reported anything about a white vehicle that had left the scene.
The Lawson SUV was burgundy and earlier testimony concluded the neighbor couldn’t confirm the color of the vehicle nor its make, according to White.
Testimony will continue today.
The trial is expected to last in Bradley County Criminal Court throughout this week.