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The trial for a man accused of killing a Bledsoe County, Tennessee, mother and daughter with an ax in November 2017 has been delayed until June 2020.

Robert Joe Whittenburg, 45, faces two counts of first-degree murder in the Nov. 30, 2017, slayings of 46-year-old Deanna Lawrence and her 24-year-old daughter, Dedra Lawrence. He was charged in December 2017 and indicted in March 2018.

A trial date is now scheduled for June 2-4, 2020, according to officials in the Bledsoe County Circuit Court Clerk's office. Criminal Court Judge Thomas W. "Rusty" Graham is assigned to preside over the trial. Whittenburg was initially set to face trial in May, then it was set for November until the most recent delay.

Twelfth Judicial District Attorney General Mike Taylor said Tuesday that the trial was delayed on a defense motion related to laboratory tests.

"The defense filed a motion for additional lab testing of hair that was on the suspected murder weapon," Taylor said, noting the motion was granted, leading to the new trial date.

Whittenburg's lawyer is Dunlap, Tennessee, attorney Sam Hudson, who was appointed after the public defender's office recused itself from the case citing a conflict, court officials said. Hudson was in court Tuesday and couldn't be reached for comment.

At the time of the killings, Deanna and Dedra Lawrence were living with the mother's boyfriend and Whittenburg, authorities said during the initial investigation.

Their bodies were found at their Sawmill Road home in a residential area a block off U.S. Highway 27 inside the city limits of Pikeville, a town of around 1,600 about 50 miles northwest of Chattanooga.

Preliminary autopsy findings showed the mother and daughter "died of wounds supposedly inflicted with the ax," Taylor said last March of the case.

The mother's boyfriend was at work the day the bodies were found and had been trying to reach the Lawrences all day but couldn't get an answer on the phone, Taylor said. When he got to the residence that day, all the doors were locked and he couldn't get anyone to let him inside. Finally he made his way inside, where he discovered the bodies and called authorities, Taylor said.

When the investigation began in 2017, Bledsoe County Sheriff Jimmy Morris told the Bledsonian-Banner in Pikeville that officers responding to the scene found Whittenburg had changed out of his bloodstained clothes and was lying on a bed in a bedroom at the home. Whittenburg was booked in connection with the killings after he was released from a hospital for treatment of "self-inflicted" injuries.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.

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