Lawson guilty: Convicted in shooting deaths of Phillips couple
by GREG KAYLOR Banner Staff Writer
Jan 19, 2014 | 2485 views | 0 0 comments | 31 31 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Aaron Lawson took the stand Friday in his defense in the double murder of Eddie and Debbie Phillips. Banner photo, HOWARD PIERCE
Aaron Lawson took the stand Friday in his defense in the double murder of Eddie and Debbie Phillips. Banner photo, HOWARD PIERCE
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“She was the boss,” exclaimed Aaron Dean Lawson, 34, who was convicted late Friday evening in the deaths of Charles “Eddie” and Debbie Phillips.

Lawson was found guilty on two first-degree murder charges as well as possessing a firearm.

Lawson is scheduled back in court for sentencing March 24.

The Phillipses were killed April 19, 2011, after Lawson traveled to the Leatha Lane residence to “talk” to Debbie regarding his Easter weekend visitation that year.

A reported ongoing dispute between Lawson, the Phillipses and Madison Lawson’s mother, Priscilla, precipitated the killings.

The couple suffered multiple gunshot wounds.

Testimony began Tuesday afternoon after the jury was selected in Judge Carroll Ross’ courtroom at the Bradley County Judicial Center.

Lawson took the stand in his own defense Friday afternoon.

Lawson was emotional at times and “visibly upset,” a term that had been used during testimony from over 30 witnesses in the trial.

Lawson explained during questioning that Debbie Phillips was key to making decisions and had influence in visitation issues, which had been going on since the first month of Madison’s birth in 1999.

Lawson had sought court action on numerous occasions. He was first granted supervised visitation, then eventually full, unsupervised visitation and co-parenting.

Lawson and Priscilla had fixed a room for a nursery in their apartment.

Madison never came home, according to Lawson’s testimony.

“Debbie took them to their house,” he said, explaining about how the newborn baby and Priscilla’s future, as well as his, began to evolve.

According to Lawson’s testimony, visitation was “constantly” interrupted, and the upcoming April 2011 Easter weekend was “his.”

During the course of time, his defense attorney Randy Rogers hammered into the jury that Lawson developed mental issues and was diagnosed as bipolar.

Lawson was placed on medications. During testimony by Priscilla and others, it was noted that when he was not on the medications, he could become angry.

Approximately a month earlier, his doctor had told Lawson he didn’t want to treat him any longer and cut off prescription meds. Lawson testified the doctor’s reason was because of his “anger.”

Text messaging and phone conversations denying Lawson’s plea for “his” full-visitation Easter weekend were the catalyst leading to the confrontation at the Phillips home, according to testimony.

Lawson had gone to his mother and father’s house to talk to his mother. His testimony indicated she was taking a bath and didn’t want to talk to him about the matter.

Lawson then went the short distance from Mouse Creek Road to the Phillips home.

“Are you sorry this happened?” asked Rogers.

Lawson became emotional.

“What did you do when you left your mother’s house?” Rogers asked in his defense direct questioning.

“I went to talk to Debbie,” Lawson said.

“Did you have a .40-caliber weapon?” Rogers asked.

“Yes,” Lawson answered.

“Did you have intentions?” asked Rogers.

Lawson said “no.”

Lawson said he wanted Madison for the full weekend, but Priscilla stated Madison wanted to go to a Phillips family Easter egg hunt on that Sunday.

“She was the boss,” Lawson said, describing Debbie Phillips.

As he drove toward the Phillips home, Lawson spoke with his father.

“He told me to turn around and go back home,” Lawson said.

When he arrived, Lawson said he parked his SUV in the driveway, exited and walked toward the garage entrance. He said he could hear Debbie’s voice coming from the pool area.

Lawson testified he went around the back of the house.

“Did you have a weapon or a gun at any time?” Rogers asked.

“No, sir. Not on me. In my vehicle,” Lawson replied.

“When you got to the opening of the pool area, who was the first person you saw?” Rogers asked.

“Both,” replied Lawson.

He said he spoke to Debbie about Madison’s visitation.

Lawson said Eddie looked at him. He told Eddie, “Looks like you’ve had too many.”

Lawson said Eddie responded by stating, “I’ll knock your head off, and if I get to my truck, I’ve got something else for you.”

Lawson then said a scuffle broke out.

“Some other dude came through the fence,” Lawson said.

“Did you hit him?” Rogers asked.

“Yes — we were all swinging,” said Lawson.

“How long were you all fighting?” Rogers asked.

Lawson replied, “a few seconds.”

“What stopped it?” he asked.

Lawson answered, “a gunshot.”

He said he heard Eddie “grunt.”

“Where did the other fellow go?” asked Rogers.

Lawson said “he took off.”

Lawson said he looked toward the fence and saw Debbie Phillips holding a gun.

“What happened when you went toward Debbie?” Rogers questioned.

Lawson stated he struggled with Debbie in the opening of the fence. He said he grabbed at the weapon and it fired.

He stated Eddie Phillips was going toward his truck.

“Don’t do it, Eddie!” Lawson said he told him.

He said he was speculating that Eddie Phillips’ earlier response that “he had something else for” him meant he was going to get his gun.

“What did you do?” Rogers asked.

“I shot him,” said Lawson.

“How many times,” asked Rogers.

“Maybe a couple of times,” Lawson replied.

Eddie Phillips was struck in the back, flank and chest.

Debbie Phillips was shot two times in the right arm and once in the neck, that bullet was discovered to have fragmented and injured her shoulder and arm. She also had a broken jaw.

He said he returned to his mother and father’s home on Mouse Creek Road.

There he was met by his father shortly after, but not before reportedly telling his mother what he had done.

On cross examination, Assistant District Attorney General Stephen Hatchett asked Lawson if he had a clear recollection of that night.

“No,” replied Lawson.

“You just answered the defense questions,” Hatchett said.

“I’ll answer your questions,” stated Lawson with a reluctant demeanor.

Lawson said “Debbie was the cause of our [Priscilla’s, Madison’s and his] problems.

“Debbie is dead,” Hatchett said.

“Yeah — She’s dead,” Lawson stated.

“When you went over there, you were perfectly calm?” asked Hatchett.

“I was trying my best to talk to Debbie about getting my little girl for Easter,” he replied.

Hatchett then pointed his questions to the alleged fourth party involved in the reported fight.

“You were fighting two men at once. That is your sworn testimony to this jury.”

“Yes,” replied Lawson.

According to Hatchett, forensics disproved another person was ever at the scene of the murders.

“Did you suffer any wounds that night?” asked Hatchett.

“They didn’t punch hard ... apparently,” said Lawson.

Lawson told the prosecutor after the gun was allegedly fired by Debbie Phillips, he observed her pointing the gun in his direction as well as Eddie Phillips and the other person, whom he described as being approximately 60 years old.

He said he rushed her and began to struggle to get the weapon.

Lawson also said he struck her in the face.

“I guess that’s when you broke her jaw?” asked Hatchett.

“I don’t know. How the hell do I know what I did to her face?” Lawson answered.

According to the forensic pathologist testimony Thursday, he noted no indications of a struggle or altercation present on the bodies of either Debbie or Eddie Phillips.

“They are on the ground dead or dying, and you decide you need to get the holster, magazine and leave?” asked Hatchett.

“Yes,” said Lawson.

“Why didn’t you stay?” asked Hatchett.

“I don’t like the police,” answered Lawson. He felt within his rights since he had been defending himself.

“It was [expletive] self-defense,” Lawson said.

“Mr. Lawson, you have been in this courtroom during this case,” said Hatchett.

“Yes,” he replied.

“You have heard testimony there were no signs of a struggle,” stated Hatchett.

“Yes,” replied Lawson.

“Your testimony is now that you were fighting three people?” Hatchett asked.

“Yes — at one time,” replied Lawson.

The defense rested just after the jury’s lunch break.

Rogers had a rather lengthy closing argument. Hatchett kept his closing to 27 minutes, including rebuttal.

The jury was charged and sent to deliberate at 4:20 p.m.

Approximately three hours later, the jury returned to the courtroom with a verdict of guilty on all counts including the weapons violation.

The jury discounted convicting on lesser charges of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, reckless homicide, criminally negligent homicide or the insanity plea.

“This was a terrible crime, and justice has been done. I hope the jury’s verdict gives some closure to the Phillips family,” Hatchett stated.

Hatchett thanked the jury and court for their service.

“This was my last trial as an assistant district attorney general with the 10th judicial office. I am resigning to focus on my campaign for the district attorney’s position,” Hatchett said.