“I love you,” were the words said as 14-year-old Madison Lawson walked from the courtroom after giving testimony in the murder trial of her grandparents, Charles “Eddie” and Debbie Phillips.
The words came from her father, Aaron Lawson, who is charged with first-degree murder in the Phillipses’ deaths in April 2011.
Bradley County Criminal Court Judge Carroll Ross admonished Aaron Lawson for the “outburst” and said he wouldn’t tolerate it in his courtroom.
Madison Lawson testified about the events leading up to the day her grandparents were killed, and also provided background about her relationship with her father and other family members.
According to her testimony, Madison was aware Aaron had bipolar disorder and was on medication.
“Were there times you saw him act irrational or unusual?” asked Randy Rogers, defense counsel for Aaron Lawson.
“Yes,” replied Madison.
Madison also responded to questions regarding a letter she had sent to Aaron after he was arrested for the shooting deaths.
“Did you send a letter to your dad after that day explaining your feelings?” Rogers asked.
“Yes,” she replied again.
Madison Lawson said she still loved her dad and grandparents, as well as other family members.
A dispute had surfaced over custody as the Easter holiday approached in April 2011.
Testimony already provided by Madison’s mother Priscilla Phillips explained their ongoing custodial problems.
She said Lawson wanted Madison for the entire weekend, but Madison wanted to also spend time on Easter Sunday with her mother and the Phillipses, according to her testimony.
Madison was texting her father, and Priscilla was also texting, in attempts to work out the arrangement.
Priscilla testified that at times, she went outside the court-ordered parental agreement and allowed Madison to spend additional time with Aaron and his family.
The couple, who were reportedly high school sweethearts, were never married but shared Madison.
Rogers indicated in Tuesday’s opening that the custodial situation created a “Hatfield and McCoy” type-feud which had been going on since Madison’s birth.
Regarding the text conversation, Madison testified she had turned her phone off, but Priscilla and her father continued to text and work out the arrangement for the weekend.
Priscilla wanted Aaron to spend time with Madison beginning earlier in the week and return her home prior to the Sunday family event which was to be held.
Aaron Lawson wanted his daughter the entire weekend, according to Rogers’ statements.
Aaron Lawson indicated it was “his” year for Easter, according to Rogers.
A death in his family had reportedly thrown the schedule off-balance and Priscilla had noted that in text conversation which was presented as evidence to the jury.
Angela Gardner, a case analyst with the Regional Organized Crime Information Center, testified she received the texts and cell tower data from Detective Kevin White.
Her job was to go through data and texting conversations, according to her testimony.
She also created a chart and timeline of conversations and tower locations.
“Did the texts indicate a dispute between the child’s mother and father?” asked Stephen Hatchett, assistant district attorney general.
The examiner replied, “Yes.”
Gardner explained that texts between Priscilla and Aaron noted Aaron wanted the child for the weekend and Madison wanted to visit with her aunt and other family on her mother’s side Sunday.
Also taking the witness stand was Bradley County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene technician Monica Datz.
Datz was in charge of collecting evidence and documenting the scene in the pool area where the couple were reportedly shot three times each.
She indicated through her testimony there were no signs of a struggle, which was alleged as a possibility during attorney Rogers’ opening.
“Based on your years of experience as a crime scene technician, is there any indication of a struggle?” Hatchett asked Datz.
“No — nothing at all,” she answered.
Rogers contended during his opening that there was possibly another person at the scene besides the Phillipses and Aaron, and that a fight occurred. He also contended the motive could be self-defense.
Photographic evidence showed Debbie Phillips suffered two gunshot wounds to her arm and one to her neck. Debbie Phillips also had “stippling” on her face.
“Stippling” is unburned gunpowder, which is cast from a weapon fired at close range, according to testimony. Eddie Phillips was also shot three times.
Blood evidence was recovered at the scene as well as spatter and droplet patterns located on a fence post, the ground and other areas.
Former TBI DNA scientist Josh Abernathy inspected and performed DNA extraction on clothing evidence worn by Aaron Lawson.
As noted, Rogers said in opening that another person had been involved and an unknown blood sample had been found on the pants worn by Aaron Lawson.
The serologist testified the unknown sample was blood, but in his opinion, it was an older sample which had been on the clothing prior to the night of the shooting.
Abernathy took three samples from the pants. Two were related to Debbie Phillips and the unknown presumptive sample was found to be blood from an unknown source.
Abernathy believed the unknown sample could have been days or weeks old.
“It was more faded than the other two samples,” Abernathy told the jury.
Rogers cross-examined the serologist, asking if the spot could have been wiped, degrading it.
“Is there anything on those pants that would presume the spot had been cleaned?” Hatchett asked.
Abernathy responded, “No.”
The sample was about the size of a dime, according to Abernathy. The other two samples, those determined to be Debbie Phillips’ blood, were the size of an eraser, he added.
“I have no idea who this DNA profile is,” Abernathy said. He could conclude the profile was that of a male.
According to Abernathy, he couldn’t enter the unknown profile into a national database because it wasn’t considered a known source. Also, because of his opinion as to the age of the source and it not being tied to the murders, he did not attempt to find a possible donor source, as the sample was not eligible under the guidelines provided.
Abernathy had also performed DNA testing on cigarette butts and cigars found in the area of the home.
Day three of the trial continues with additional testimony from approximately 30 witnesses on the prosecution’s list.