Police: Easter visitation quarrel led to shooting

Police: Easter visitation quarrel led to shooting

April 22nd, 2011 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News


The Bradley County Sheriff's office is asking for the public's help in locating the weapon used in the slaying of Eddie and Deborah Phillips. They suspect the 9 mm handgun may have been tossed somewhere in the north Mouse Creek Road area. The search area starts around the 7000 block, extends along Lauderdale Memorial Highway, out Lower River Road, west to Highway 58 in Meigs County, then south on Highway 58 to Lawson's Auto Repair, where Lawson was arrested Wednesday.

Another possible route, police said, runs from north Mouse Creek Road and Lauderdale Memorial Highway, south on Eureka Road to state Highway 60, then west to state Highway 58 and south on Highway 58 to Lawson's Auto Repair.

Anyone finding a handgun or parts of one is asked to contact the Universal Crime Hotline at 728-7311 and choose option 7, or 728-7272.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - It was all about Easter.

Police and family members of the man charged with killing his daughter's grandparents say the shooting hinged on where the 11-year-old girl would spend Easter weekend.

Aaron Lawson, 32, is charged with two counts of first-degree murder after Eddie and Deborah Phillips were found shot to death Tuesday night in their driveway on Leatha Lane in Charleston, Tenn.

On Thursday, Lawson stood with shackled arms in Bradley County Criminal Courtroom as a judge denied him bond. His preliminary hearing was set for April 28.

Lawson's family members say he and the Phillipses' daughter Priscilla weren't married and he didn't get along with her parents.

Family members said the tension ratcheted higher after Lawson was charged with stabbing a man in the stomach in February and the Phillipses refused to let him see his daughter.

Lawson had plans for his daughter to stay with him over Easter weekend, said Lawson's uncle, Ernie Lawson, but the girl's mother was making Easter plans.

Ernie Lawson said Thursday his nephew showed up Tuesday night at his auto repair shop off Highway 58 in northern Hamilton County.

Sitting on the steps of his repair shop, shirtless and wearing baggy shorts, Ernie Lawson said Thursday that Aaron was in a bad state.

He said Aaron told him, "I just messed up."

Aaron "said he had no reason to live if he didn't see the girl," Ernie Lawson said.

According to his uncle, Aaron Lawson went to the Phillipses' house to try to reason with them and settle where the girl would stay over the Easter weekend. As had happened many times before, a heated argument broke out. Then came the gunshots, said his uncle, whose criminal history includes drug and theft charges.

Ernie Lawson said he stayed up all night with his nephew, who he said was suicidal, until Aaron calmed down.

Ernie and his wife, Tammy, said they took the clip out of the gun their nephew was carrying and give him sleeping pills until the police arrived to arrest him.

Ernie Lawson wiped tears from his eyes Thursday.

"I was going to give my life for that boy if I had to," he said.

Another view

Bradley Sheriff Jim Ruth tells a different story.

He said Lawson staked out the couple's home, then shot them multiple times when they came outside.

Capt. Brian Quinn, who is heading the investigation, supported Ernie Lawson's account of a dispute over which parent would have the child for Easter.

Authorities on Thursday wouldn't give provide any more details about the shooting, citing the ongoing investigation.

When Lawson was arrested, the 9 mm pistol that police suspect he used in the shooting was not with him. The sheriff has asked for the public's help in finding the weapon, which he believes was tossed into the roadside weeds Tuesday night.

Families grieve

By Thursday morning, a sign - "In memory of Eddie Phillips and Debbie Phillips" - had been placed in front of Grissom Funeral Home, where visitation will take place today from 3 to 9 p.m.

Funeral services will be held at Dwelling Place Church International on 523 Urbane Road at 11 a.m.

The Grissoms lived next door to the couple.

Eddie, 58, and Deborah, 54, were lifelong Bradley County residents, friends and neighbors said. Eddie Phillips owned an auto repair shop in Polk County.

"They have just been real good neighbors," said Luci Moore, who lived across the street from the Phillipses for about 15 years.

The Phillips family declined to comment.

No family members showed up for Lawson's brief arraignment Thursday morning.

"It's a sad situation for all the families involved," said Casey Stokes, Lawson's attorney.

Lawson had a history of using ice methamphetamine and had become addicted to prescription pain pills after a doctor prescribed them for a back injury, his family said.

But Tammy Lawson, Ernie's wife, said the shooting "was out of character for him." She said he always paid child support and enjoyed spending time with his daughter.

Lawson was out on bond for the aggravated assault charge stemming from the February stabbing. Since 1996, Lawson also has been arrested multiple times on charges of DUI, reckless endangerment and speeding. He also has a theft charge from 2002, court records show.