The state Office of the Attorney General has sent the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office a letter stating it won’t take over the unresolved fatal stabbing of college student David Josiah Lawson in April 2017.
Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming said her office received a letter from the state Office of the Attorney General on Thursday stating the two conditions for the state to take over — when the district attorney has a conflict of interest or abused their discretion in handling the case — had not been met.
“As my original letter to the Attorney General stated, we have made the right decisions and taken appropriate actions at every step in the Lawson case,” Fleming said in a statement. “During my tenure as District Attorney, our Office has a strong record of success in prosecuting homicide cases. We will continue to vigorously, effectively, and ethically prosecute all violent crimes in Humboldt County whenever possible.”
Previously, Fleming’s office put out a press release stating that any future prosecution of the case should be handled by a state agency because of perceptions her office had a conflict of interest though she added there was no conflict of interest.
“We mourn the tragic loss of Mr. Lawson’s life,” the letter signed by senior assistant attorney general Jeffrey Laurence states. “However, we could not find evidence that calls for the Department of Justice’s intervention in the case, and will not be taking any further action in this matter.”
Lawson was a 19-year-old Humboldt State University student who was fatally stabbed at a house party in Arcata on April 15, 2017.
Humboldt State University issued a statement Friday evening about the refusal by the Office of the Attorney General to take the case, calling it “disappointing news.”
“Humboldt State University desperately wants to see Justice for Josiah. We all desire a resolution and healing for Josiah’s family and friends, and the campus community,” the statement said. “We remain hopeful that additional evidence and witnesses will be found, enabling more progress in the investigation.”
The Humboldt County Criminal Grand Jury found there was not enough evidence to prosecute the case, after which Fleming chose not to prosecute the McKinleyville man, Kyle Zoellner, who had been arrested in connection with the slaying. A preliminary hearing for Zoellner in May 2017 came to a similar conclusion.
The National Police Foundation’s report on the Lawson case, which the foundation’s President Jim Burch said would be available by the end of the year, has yet to be received by the city of Arcata, City Manager Karen Diemer said Thursday.
“We’ve been working off the timeline of the end of the year,” Diemer said of when the city expects the report.
However, she said she couldn’t confirm that was the schedule the foundation would ultimately stick with.
The National Police Foundation did not respond to multiple requests for comment by publication time.
Michelle-Charmaine Lawson, Lawson’s mother, said she was obviously disappointed, but that the Attorney General didn’t say there wasn’t enough evidence in the case, just that there wasn’t a conflict of interest with the District Attorney’s Office.
“I clearly disagree with them,” Lawson said. “I believe there’s a conflict because of bias.”
Her son’s case wasn’t properly investigated from the start, Lawson said, adding Fleming didn’t do enough to push the case forward. Any progress that was made was the result of public pressure, she said.
“I want the person responsible for my son’s murder to be prosecuted,” Lawson said. “I’m not going to stop fighting until I get justice, period.”
Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.