published Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

Man indicted in Charleston, Tenn. slayings

A month after a Bradley County, Tenn., man was charged with shooting his daughter’s grandparents to death outside their home, he is one step closer to going to trial.

The Bradley County grand jury indicted 32-year-old Aaron Lawson on two counts of first-degree murder when it met last Wednesday, 10th Judicial Circuit District Attorney Steve Bebb said. The indictments didn’t become public record until Monday.

Police believe Lawson shot 58-year-old Eddie Phillips and his 54-year-old wife, Debbie, multiple times outside their Charleston home on April 19, then fled from police. He hid at his uncle’s repair shop in Hamilton County until police surrounded it and arrested him early in the afternoon of the next day.

Lawson, who is the father of the Phillipses’ 11-year-old granddaughter, was angry because he wanted to spend Easter weekend with the girl, but his former girlfriend’s family wouldn’t let him, Lawson’s family and police have said.

Police contend that Lawson went to the Phillipses’ home to kill them, but Lawson’s family members argue he went to the couple’s house to talk to them and snapped while he was there.

The charges are first-degree murder, but Bebb said no decision has been made on whether prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

“We’ll discuss that later on,” he said. “Right now, he doesn’t qualify for it.”

In order to seek the death penalty, there must be a certain standard of aggravated circumstances, Bebb said. In Lawson’s case, prosecutors probably first would have to charge him in a previous aggravated assault case for him to qualify, Bebb said.

The aggravated assault charge stems from a February bar fight in which police said Lawson stabbed a man in the stomach.

Lawson and the Phillipses already had a rocky relationship, and aggravated assault charge put another wedge between them, Lawson’s uncle Ernie said in a previous interview.

Since 1996, Lawson has been arrested multiple times on charges including DUI, reckless endangerment and speeding.

Lawson also has a theft charge from 2002, court records show.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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