Judge assigns public defender to suspect in Cleveland, Tenn., slayings

Judge assigns public defender to suspect in Cleveland, Tenn., slayings

June 21st, 2011 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News

Aaron Lawson, charged with shooting his daughter's grandparents to death was appointed a public defender Monday in Bradley County Criminal Court.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Two months after a Cleveland, Tenn., man was charged with shooting his daughter's grandparents to death, he was back in court.

Aaron Lawson, 32, who is charged with two counts of first-degree murder in connection with the April shooting deaths of Eddie and Debbie Phillips, was assigned public defender Richard Hughes to represent him, then hauled back to jail.

Lawson stood shackled and alone in Bradley County Criminal Court when his name was called Monday. None of his family members attended the hearing and Lawson's parents, who live near Charleston, Tenn., declined comment when reached later by telephone.

Hughes now must file a motion that asks Judge Carroll Ross to set bond for Lawson, said 10th Judicial Circuit District Attorney Steve Bebb.

Police contend Lawson ambushed 58-year-old Eddie Phillips and 54-year-old Debbie Phillips outside their home on April 19 and shot them at least three times apiece.

The Phillipses both died in their driveway. Eddie Phillips had three gunshot wounds to his torso, and Debbie Phillips had three gunshot wounds to her neck, arm and forearm, an autopsy report showed.

After leading police on an all-night manhunt, Lawson was arrested the next day at his uncle's auto shop off Highway 58 in north Hamilton County.

Lawson dated the Phillipses' daughter, Priscilla, briefly and they had a child in 1999, court records show.

Police and Lawson's family members say the Phillipses and Lawson were fighting over where Lawson's 11-year-old daughter would spend Easter weekend.

Ernie and Tammy Lawson, the uncle and aunt of Aaron Lawson and owners of the auto shop where he was found, argue that their nephew went to the Phillips home to try to make peace, but the encounter turned into a heated argument and he lost his temper.

Lawson and the Phillipses had a long-running, contentious relationship, and an aggravated assault charge put another wedge between them in February, his aunt and uncle said. Lawson was arrested and charged with assault after police say he stabbed a man in the stomach outside a Cleveland bar.

Lawson and Priscilla Phillips fought for years in court over whether Lawson should be able to see his daughter. When his daughter was 22 months old, he was granted supervised visitation at his parents' Cleveland home, court records show.

But his visitation rights were taken away in 2003 when he was arrested on a charge of making methamphetamine in a Meigs County trailer, court records show. When Lawson wasn't indicted on the charges, a judge restored his visitation.

Since 1996, Lawson has been arrested multiple times on charges such as DUI, reckless endangerment and speeding, court records show. He also has a theft charge from 2002, according to records.

Contact Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.