IRONTON, OH (WOWK) –
UPDATE: 02/12/2019 2:00 p.m
It was Tuesday morning and the time was 8:48 a.m.
Arron Lawson, the man accused of a quadruple murder, walked into the courtroom for the second day of his murder trial.
He looked calm, but also somber, as he walked over to his chair wearing a light blue plaid shirt and khaki pants.
The jury was still in the jury room, and Judge Andy Ballard called the room to be on the record.
What would follow next would shock members of the public, the media, and even the prosecution.
The defense stood up and told Judge Ballard that, against their advice, Mr. Lawson had decided to waive his right to a jury trial and instead plead to a 3 judge panel.
Slight gasps could be heard in the courtroom.
Judge Ballard would then ask Mr. Lawson a series of questions focused on assessing whether or not Mr. Lawson knew what he was doing. “Yes, I do your honor, I understand,” Lawson would reply back to the judge.
Judge Ballard then informed Lawson that by trying this case with a judge panel, Lawson would be going from a pool of 12 people to a pool of 3 judges.
Judge Ballard added that the state would still have to present proper evidence to the court before proceeding to the next phase if this went to a 3 judge panel.
Lawson was asked by Judge Ballard if he was coerced or promised something for waiving his right to a jury trial. Lawson said no.
At that moment, the prosecution said it believed that Mr. Lawson understood his decision, believed it was Lawson’s decision to make, and that he had already made that decision.
“I completely recognize [what I’m doing]” said Lawson in open court. “I do believe this is a great decision for me and I will waive [my] right [to a jury trial].”
Judge Ballard went on to explain how difficult and time consuming the process had been to go from a pool of 500 potential jurors to 12 jurors and 4 alternates in a matter of three weeks.
If Lawson was serious about waiving his right to trial by jury, Judge Ballard wanted Lawson to know that he’s “99.9% unlikely to reverse the decision” in order to regrant Lawson a trial by jury, unless of dire circumstance, once the papers were signed.
Judge Ballard said that everyone has a right to a jury trial, but people are not afforded that same right once they waive their right to trial by jury and are trying to withdraw the waiver.
At 9:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, Judge Ballard called for a 15-minute recess so Lawson could consult with his defense team.
As Lawson made his way back into the courtroom close to 9:40 a.m., a person in the court gallery said to him ‘what are you doing?’ Lawson said nothing back.
The court reconvened at 9:40 a.m. Tuesday morning, at which time Lawson told the court he had officially made his decision to waive his right to trial by jury.
Lawson told the court he felt he had been given good advice from his attorneys “every single minute,” and that no one had threatened or coerced him.
Lawson stated to the court he had consulted this decision with his family on Monday, at which time he had decided he would stick with the jury trial.
But by Tuesday morning, Lawson would tell the court, he had changed his mind to waive his right to a jury trial.
Judge Ballard explained to Lawson that waving the right of a jury trial means a jury won’t decide a penalty if he was found guilty. He said the same three judges that would hear the case would be the same three judges that would decide the penalty if a verdict of guilty was found.
At 9:50 a.m. Judge Ballard said to Lawson, “this is your last opportunity. Is this what you want?”
“Yes, sir,” Lawson replied.
The waiver was read aloud by Judge Ballard and signed by Lawson at 9:51 a.m.
After Lawson signed the waiver, he took a small drink from a bottle of water at the table.
One of Lawson’s lawyers offered him a peppermint. Lawson declined it. The lawyer shrugged a bit and still took a peppermint for himself.
Judge Ballard then made sure the waiver was filed with the clerk’s office and said he would personally call the Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday so that the Chief Justice could appoint two more judges to hear the case; Judge Ballard will be one of the judges hearing the case, too.
Judge Ballard said he was going to try to expedite the process as the whole month of February was blocked off for Lawson’s jury trial.
The jury – 13 women and 3 men including the alternates – was brought into the courtroom around 10:00 a.m.
At that time, Judge Ballard explained what had been going on since 8:48 a.m. Tuesday morning explaining to the jury that Lawson had officially waived his right to a jury trial.
The jury and the court were dismissed at 10:03 a.m.
Following the jury’s dismissal, we spoke with Lawrence County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson to get his reaction.
“I was taken aback by [Lawson’s decision], because I was surprised by it. However, we knew that this was a possibility, and I knew that this is something he had considered and had been considering for a while,” said Prosecutor Anderson about Lawson’s decision to waive his right to a jury trial Tuesday morning.
“We were prepared for opening statements, a view of the scene, and we had a least 4 witnesses that we would’ve put on today. The jury was selected, and seated yesterday after a two and a half week jury selection process and we were ready to go today so this was quite a surprise to everyone.”
Prosecutor Anderson tells 13 News that because Lawson is being charged with a capital offense, he was the right to either have a jury to do his trial or a three-judge panel.
Prosecutor Anderson says Lawson could not plead ‘guilty’ to Judge Ballard, which is why he believes he’s waived a jury trial. Lawson would be allowed to plead guilty to a three-judge panel.
Prosecutor Anderson says it’s his understanding that Lawson plans to plead guilty, but the prosecution will still have to present evidence in this matter. He hopes the three judge panel will begin sometime next week.
The prosecution will continue to pursue the death penalty against Lawson, according to Prosecutor Anderson.
UPDATE: 02/11/2019 6:45 p.m.
Jury selection in the Arron Lawson trial was finalized just after 5 p.m. Monday. Two attorneys from the State of Ohio Attorney General’s office were present during the jury selection and let members know what they could and couldn’t consider as evidence.
Opening statements, as well as witness testimony, are expected to start at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
The trial for Arron Lawson is still scheduled to begin on Monday as potential jurors continue to be selected Monday afternoon.
Lawson is accused of murdering four people – Don McGuire, Tammie McGuire, Stacy Jackson, and 8-year-old Devin Holston – back in October of 2017 in Pedro, Ohio.
The big take away from Monday morning’s proceedings was that Lawson decided, at his counsel’s advice, to not be present for Jury view.
Court proceedings began a little after 9:00 a.m. Monday morning with Judge Andy Ballard approving a motion filed by the state. That motion would allow the state to show the crime scene to the jury.
He could be seen briefly and quietly speaking to his attorneys, but he didn’t show much of an expression on his face.
While the jury has not been finalized yet, the prosecution did ask for opening arguments to be allotted for an hour and a half each.
The defense asked for only 15 minutes each, but Judge Ballard ruled in favor of the prosecution.
There were also some issues with some potential jurors, one of which wrote Judge Ballard a letter stating that after they had brought a relative lunch to school, they “knew in [their] heart what they had to do,” and would have no choice but to vote Lawson as guilty of a capital offense if they were selected as a juror.
Following this information, members of media were asked to vacate the courtroom a little after 9:30 a.m. so the potential jurors could come back inside.
Among the list of charges against Lawson are four counts of aggravated murder, each of which is punishable with the death penalty.
As for the potential jurors, they had been dismissed a little after 10:30 a.m. after court officials say there was “an issue.”
Those potential jurors were scheduled to return to the courtroom at 1:00 p.m. on Monday afternoon.
Stay with 13 News for the latest developments on this case.