Judge dismisses relief case appeal for Lawson

Posted 4/17/19

Bradley County Criminal Court Judge Andrew Mark Freiberg has dismissed a post-conviction relief case for Aaron Dean Lawson, the man convicted in 2014 in the double murder of his daughter’s maternal …

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Judge dismisses relief case appeal for Lawson


Bradley County Criminal Court Judge Andrew Mark Freiberg has dismissed a post-conviction relief case for Aaron Dean Lawson, the man convicted in 2014 in the double murder of his daughter’s maternal grandparents.

Freiberg's ruling came in a recent court action in Bradley County.

Charles “Eddie” Phillips and his wife, Debbie Phillips, were shot to death by Lawson inside their home in April 2011, during an argument over a custodial visit during the Easter holiday.

Lawson was convicted of the murders in 2014 and was handed two 51-year-sentences to run concurrently, with an additional two years for a conviction of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

After the post-conviction hearing, Lawson was returned to South Central Correctional Facility, in Clifton, where he will complete his remaining sentence.

During the 2014 trial, it was learned the couple was in the pool area of their home when they were shot by Lawson. Their bodies were found several feet from each other and shell casings from a 9 mm weapon were scattered in the area.

According to court testimony, investigators said 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 an article previously published in the Cleveland Daily Banner.

During trial, it was learned that Lawson’s mother said her "son had put a gun down and went to wash his hands. She then hid the weapon, but Lawson pulled out another weapon and put it to his head, threatening to harm himself if she didn’t return the other weapon to him,” according to the Banner article. 

Lawson’s father had been on his way home after being contacted by his wife.

“After he arrived, he attempted to talk to Lawson and begged him not to leave their home, but Aaron Lawson heard sirens and left,” the article stated.

The couples’ pastor contacted 911, who sent Bradley County Sheriff’s Office deputies to the Phillips home, where their bodies were found.

In addition, “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," the article stated.

Lawson was located the next day in Hamilton County.

Lawson’s attorney Randy Rogers, during his opening statement at trial, said that Lawson suffered “from bipolar disorder and that the custodial issue over the Phillipses’ then 11-year-old granddaughter had been an ongoing issue since her birth.”

Assistant District Attorney for the 10th Judicial District Matt Dunn told the  Banner that Judge Andrew Mark Freiberg dismissed the relief request.

Dunn said the majority of post-conviction relief requests center on issues such as violations of constitutional rights or situations where a defendant’s attorney was ineffective.

Dunn said most cases rarely reach consideration for post-conviction relief.

“It must be a case of real significance,” Dunn said, describing the reasoning for dismissing Lawson's request.

Lawson lost his case on appeal when, in 2015, the Tennessee Court of Appeals at Knoxville affirmed the judgment of the trial court, finding that the trial court did not err by “disallowing expert proof of mental problems which were not such that they prevented his premeditating the murders; admitting evidence of a jail telephone call which he made; allowing proof of prior arrests, some of which resulting in his acquittal; without a hearing, placing the defendant in a stun-belt during the trial; and excluding evidence of a prior consistent statement of the defendant’s father after he had been impeached with an allegedly inconsistent statement.”

In 2012, Lawson was acquitted of aggravated assault in connection with the stabbing of Travis Milliard during a fight outside a Cleveland bar in early 2011.


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