Families pack court amid controversy over pleaDecember 4, 2008
By MATT THACKER
The Jeffersonville man who pleaded guilty to killing two siblings outside Priya’s Bar and Grill in Jeffersonville was sentenced to 80 years in the Indiana Department of Correction on Wednesday.
Derek Lawson, 26, pleaded guilty in October to two counts of voluntary manslaughter and one count of attempted murder, all class A felonies, for the shooting deaths of Dyjuan Latendresse, 25, and April Jones, 21, and for trying to kill their younger brother, 17-year-old Jonathan Jones Jr. in September 2007.
Clark County Superior Court No. 1 Judge Vicki Carmichael had the option of choosing a sentence ranging from 20 years to 80 years in prison under the terms of the plea agreement.
Carmichael said in court that anything less than 80 years, as recommended by the state, would “diminish” the crimes.
Lawson received 20 years for the death of Latendresse and 30 years each for the death of April Jones and shooting of Jonathan Jones Jr. Each sentence will run consecutively.
Linda Jones, the mother of the three victims, testified that following the shooting was the “most devastating time of my life.” The mother of Latendresse’s two children also testified and asked the judge to consider the effect on her children growing up without a father.
Jonathan Jones Jr., now 18, burst into tears just before he was called to testify. Jones was shot five times during the same incident. He appears to have physically recovered, but said he missed most of his senior year of high school while healing.
“This is something I’ve got to live with the rest of my life,” he said. “Just because you fear someone don’t give you the right to kill them.”
At the hearing, Lawson’s mother, Mary Lawson, described her son and Latendresse as childhood friends. But she said a rift began to grow between the two of them after they suspected Latendresse of searching through their dresser drawers when the two were in high school.
She claims that in 2003, Latendresse stole Lawson’s gun and cell phone and then later shot him twice in the buttocks.
“He almost lost his life that day. My son almost lost his life that day,” Mary Lawson said.
The defense also argued that Latendresse and others broke into Lawson’s house in 2006 and tied him up and kicked him and shot another person in the house. Lawson’s mother claims her son became terrified to even go in Jeffersonville, the city where he grew up.
The defense also claimed that Lawson’s parent’s house was shot about 18 times for “revenge” following the fatal shooting.
“He feared Dyjuan Latendresse, and he had a reason to fear him,” Lawson’s mother said.
Derek Lawson apologized in court to the Jones family and his family and said he was “sincerely sorry” for what happened.
Patrick Renn, Lawson’s attorney, asked for 20 years in prison, which was the minimum sentence allowed.
He argued that the shooting was a “single criminal episode that occurred at one time” rather than serial shootings.
Deputy Prosecutor Bill Grimes argued that Lawson may have had a feud with Latendresse, but that “two innocent” victims also were shot.
Renn found fault with the judge’s decision to include Lawson’s previous arrests as aggravating factors. He said that since Lawson has not been convicted of any other charge, those arrests should not be considered. He also argued the fact that there was a “long-running feud” and Lawson was scared for his life supported a lighter sentence.
“I’m satisfied [about] what happened,” the victims’ mother said after the hearing.
Not everyone in the family was appeased, though.
Jonathan Jones said after the hearing that he still did not agree with the manslaughter charge and said the shooting was not done in “sudden heat.”
“All it was hate and envy,” he said. “Ain’t nothing going to change what happened.”
On Monday, the family held a press conference with several Louisville media outlets in the office of Louisville civil rights activist Christopher 2X. The family told the media that they opposed any plea agreement and wanted the case to go to trial.
Between Lawson’s family and the victims’ family, there were at least 50 people who came to the hearing. At least a dozen security officers were called to the courtroom area to make sure there were no problems.
Grimes addressed the audience in the courtroom when speaking about the importance of the fact that Lawson cannot appeal his conviction under the terms of the plea agreement. The sentence can be appealed.
“Eighty years is a long time,” Deputy Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said after the hearing. “This will ensure he spends virtually the rest of his life in prison.”
With Indiana’s good-time credit rule, Lawson could serve less than 40 years. He also received credit for nearly a year and a half that he has already spent in prison.
Mull said he was “disappointed” that the family chose to hold the press conference. He said the family was contacted after the plea agreement had already been filed because both sides only had a “small window of opportunity” to file it.
Lawson did not plead guilty until the first day of his trial after the jury had already been seated. Lawson originally faced two counts of murder.
After the sentence was read, Lawson told the judge he intends to appeal the sentence. Renn said they may file a motion to correct error in Superior Court No. 1 within the next 30 days, based on his argument that Lawson’s arrests should not have been counted as an aggravating factor. They also could go directly to the Indiana Court of Appeals.
See post for dear sister April Jones here.