Carl Lawson

Carl Lawson (Photo: Loren Santow)

Carl Lawson (Photo: Loren Santow)

A shoddy police investigation landed Carl Lawson on death row

After 8-year-old Terrence Jones was found murdered in his East St. Louis home on July 27, 1989, a friend of his mother, Carl E. Lawson, was charged with the crime because bloody shoeprints consistent with shoes he owned were found at the scene.

At the trial, the state contended the print had been left by the killer, but Lawson claimed that if the prints indeed were his he had left them when he arrived at the church after the child's body was discovered, which was several hours after the murder occurred. Unfortunately, Lawson, who was represented at trial by a former prosecutor who had handled his arraignment, did not have funds to hire an independent expert to examine the print. He was convicted by a St. Clair County jury and sentenced to death, but he won a new trial based on his lawyer's conflict of interest and the trial judge's denial of resources to hire forensic experts. By this time, an alternative suspect had been identified and the prosecution's shoe print theory was called into question. Still prosecutors tried Lawson two more times.

At the first, the jury deadlocked, with 11 of its 12 members favoring acquittal. At the second a year later, Lawson was finally found not guilty. The alternative suspect has since died, without ever being investigated. Lawson's exoneration was unusual because the error was corrected without the help of volunteers outside the system. After his release, Lawson moved to Missouri, where he has had a difficult time finding steady employment. "It's hard," he says. "Not very many people want to hire a man who's been on Death Row."

Case Summary (pdf)