Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman discusses the investigation of the killing of David Josiah Lawson as the victim’s mother, Charmaine Michelle Lawson, stands by his side. Jack Durham | union
Andrew George Butler & Jack Durham
Mad River Union
ARCATA – The investigation into the April 15 stabbing death of Humboldt State student David Josiah Lawson, 19, is continuing as Arcata Police search for witnesses and await forensic testing results of clothing, a knife and other evidence gathered at the scene.
“The investigation is pushing forward and is ongoing,” said Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman during a press conference June 30 on the HSU Quad.
Lawson was stabbed at a house party on the 1100 block of Spear Avenue in Arcata during the early morning hours of April 15, the day before Easter. Lawson was transported to Mad River Community Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries just after 4 a.m.
Kyle Zoellner, 23, of McKinleyville was arrested at the scene and charged with murder. But after a week of preliminary trial hearings, the presiding judge threw out the charges against Zoellner due to a lack of evidence and conflicting testimony from those who were present at the house party.
Chapman said investigators are still interviewing party-goers and he urged anyone present that evening to come forward and contact the police department. “We know there are people in attendance at that party who have not come forward,” Chapman said.
A reward for evidence that identifies and helps to convict the person responsible for the death of Lawson has reached $21,000.
“You hate to have to monetize people doing the right thing ... if that’s what it takes, that’s what it takes,” Chapman said.
Chapman stressed to the couple dozen community and media members in attendance, and those in the greater Humboldt area that anyone who attended the party April 15 needs to come forward, whether they think they know anything of importance or not. Chapman said “[Unidentified witnesses] are a piece of a puzzle we are trying to put together.” “The value of that cannot be understated,” Chapman said.“They potentially have valuable information that they don’t know they have.”
An important element of the investigation is the forensic testing of evidence, including a knife recovered at the scene, as well as blood-stained clothing.
“That’s certainly a piece of the puzzle that helps direct and facilitate the investigation,” Chapman said.
The evidence is being tested by the California Department of Justice and, according to Chapman, there is no timeline for when investigators will get the results. “The process is not quick,” Chapman said. It has been over two months since items were sent to the California Department of Justice. It is unclear at this time why charges were filed why the case was brought to trial before the aforementioned forensic evidence was processed and able to undergo review.
A petition asking that the California Department of Justice take over the investigation into the killing of Lawson has been making its way around the virtual corridors of Facebook, and so far has collected about 1,000 signatures. Chapman said he is open to accepting help from all agencies that offer.
One man in attendance at the press conference asked why the pepper spraying of Lawson shortly before his death isn’t being treated as a separate incident, and why neither of the two women at the crime scene connected with Zoellner, including his at-the- time girlfriend Lila Ortega, have been arrested.
Chapman was unable to give an answer, indicating that to do so would interfere with the present Lawson investigation.
The victim’s mother, Charmaine Michelle Lawson, thanked those in the community who have made it their mission to seek justice for Lawson.
As she stood in the center of the campus quad, Charmaine paused, and shared a story of her and her late son visiting the HSU bookstore in the Fall of 2015. “That’s where my mind is at right now ... He was so happy to be here.”
Charmaine also made a revealing comment during the press conference, saying “We are still looking at the prime suspect as the prime suspect,” an indication that police may still be considering charges against Zoellner once they obtain more evidence.
Chapman made it clear during the press conference that just because charges against Zoellner were dropped doesn’t mean that they can’t be refiled.
“I just want justice for my son ... It’s been two months ... That’s all I want,” said Charmaine Lawson. “We are going to get that justice."