Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

March 12, 2010

Emerson found not guilty

By Tonia Rose, staff writer

March 10, 2010 — Editor's Note: Following the below story, the jury found Emerson not guilty on Wednesday, March 10.

The murder trial continues for a 50-year-old Carter County man who took the stand Tuesday claiming self-defense in the Aug. 8, 2009 killing of his neighbor Richard Lawrence.

The weeklong trial continued to hear witnesses for the defendant and for the commonwealth.

Timothy Emerson pleaded not guilty and claims that he shot Lawrence in self-defense when Lawrence threatened to kill him and kicked twice the back door at Emerson’s Fighting Fork residence.

Lawrence, 41, believed Emerson and his wife Barbara were having a sexual relationship.

Prior to the shooting Emerson was inside the mobile home with Lawrence’s wife Barbara and her 12-year-old daughter Katie.

On the evening of the shooting, Barbara Lawrence told Carter County Sheriff Deputy Brandon Cox that her husband arrived at the home and was kicking in the back door. She took the witness stand this past Wednesday but denied telling Cox that her husband had kicked the door.

Katie Lawrence also took the stand and remained emotional throughout questioning. Emerson’s attorney Michael Curtis asked Katie about the day her father was killed. “Didn’t you tell police that your dad was kicking at the back door?” Curtis asked her. Katie answered and said, “No, I said, he was knocking at the door.”

While on the stand, Emerson told the jury that Barbara and Katie had been staying with him due to a protective order against her husband Lawrence.

“She said she had to get away from him because he was beating her,” Emerson testified. “She was afraid for her life. She said he had a violent temper when he was drinking and it got worse when he was off his medication. I don’t know what type of medication he was on.”

When she and her daughter moved in with him, Emerson informed Barbara of a 12-gauge shotgun kept loaded under the bed.

He also admitted to the court to owning several other guns that remained locked in a gun cabinet. He said the shotgun was kept loaded due to numerous robberies and break-ins that had happened on Fighting Fork. He said the gun was for protection from burglars and wild animals, as he lived close to a wooded area.

Emerson told the jurors he had another encounter with Lawrence prior to the shooting. “It was my son Sammy’s wedding,” Emerson said. “It was Richard, Barb and two of her sisters. We were all drinking, talking and playing Cds from my car stereo. I then turned off the car and, as I often do, went for a walk in the woods next my house.”

Emerson said when he returned from his walk Lawrence was inside the car and had the ignition on. Emerson told him to get out of the car before the battery ran down.

“He got a little mouthy and then left,” Emerson told the courtroom. “But he did want to fight and said he would whip my ass. I told him I didn’t want any problems with him.”

Later that day, Emerson said he got ready to leave for his job with the Local 798 Pipeliner Unit. The job site was near Logan, W.Va. Emerson and his son Sammy left Aug. 1 and returned home Aug. 7.

The day of the shooting, Emerson said he got up and did his routine Saturday errands such as going to the bank, paying bills and visiting with friends.

He also stopped and purchased a case of beer. He told the court he drank six to eight beers on a daily basis. He began to drink at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 8, and said he had consumed about 10 to 12 beers by 7:45 p.m.

Commonwealth Attorney Gary Conn asked Emerson, if after the shooting, did police accuse him of being impaired or intoxicated.

Emerson answered, “No.” During testimony by Kaleb Litchfield, former employee with the Eastern Regional Crime Lab, Litchfield said Emerson’s alcohol blood count tested at .16 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood. No drugs were identified in Emerson’s blood, Litchfield testified.

Emerson said Barbara Lawrence’s sister Helen arrived at his residence just before 8 p.m. Aug. 8, to inform them that Richard Lawrence was on his way to Emerson’s house.

“When Mr. Lawrence got there I was on the phone with a lady friend,” Emerson said. “I went to the door and the first thing he asked was, “Are you f- - - - ing my wife?” I told him, no. He said he heard I was sleeping with her, and then he snapped. He kept saying he was going to whip my ass. I begged him to please go home and come back tomorrow and we would talk about it. He just continued to cuss me.

“He was on the porch, but then made a step toward me into the house. I went to the bedroom and reached for the 12-gauge shotgun that I kept under the bed. I told him to go home. At that time he was in front of the washer (about two to three feet inside the mobile home). I was within nine to 10 feet from him. He was standing there threatening to beat me to death. But when I came out of the bedroom with the gun, he backed out the door and onto the porch,” he continued.

Emerson said he walked toward the door and turned the lock. Although he wasn’t sure where Barbara was at that time, he yelled out for her to call police.

“He had me scared,” Emerson testified. “I knew I couldn’t handle him. He outweighed me, and I had an injured hand. I knew I couldn’t do anything with him.”

Emerson said once the door was closed, he thought the incident was over.

“Then I heard him hollering really loud and heard loud bangs on the door. Barbara had told me about his violent temper, and now he was yelling that he was going to kill me. He kicked the door again, and said again, he was going to kill me. I was scared…I pulled the trigger.”

According to Dr. Christen Marie Roth, with the medical examiner’s office in Frankfort, Lawrence was hit on the left side of his face and neck with multiple pellets from a 12-gauge shotgun.

The pellets traveled through a diamond-shaped glass window before hitting Lawrence. Blood tests proved Lawrence’s blood alcohol level was .163. The limit illegal to drive is .08. Roth said the alcohol level in Lawrence’s body was double that.

Roth said the cause of Lawrence’s death was gunshot wound to the face that caused vascular injury to the neck, ”He bled to death,” she testified. “

Following pulling the trigger, Emerson looked out the broken window to see Lawrence facedown in the yard.

During cross-examination, Conn asked Emerson if he had squatted over Lawrence’s body, as police had testified he did. “Sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Cox said when he got to the scene you were over him. Were you crying?” Conn asked.

With his hands over his face, Emerson began to tear up. “Yes, sir I was crying. I had just killed a man. I will hate what I did for the rest of my life. But I was trying to protect my life. I was scared. I was scared. He was kicking in the door and saying he was going to kill me. I was scared.”

Curtis asked Emerson if he had it to do over again, would he allow Barbara Lawrence and her daughter to stay with him in his home.

“No sir,” Emerson answered. “I was just trying to be good to them. But look what it got me. I am not guilty of murder. I was only protecting my own life. I agree that I killed a man, but I didn’t commit murder.”

Once taken to the Carter County Detention Center, Emerson made a statement to a deputy jailer.

Conn read the statement Tuesday during the trial. Conn said Emerson’s story on the stand was different from the night he made the statement. “You left out that he was threatening to kill you,” Conn told Emerson.

“Yes, I did,” Emerson replied. “I left a few things out, I guess. But I had just killed a man. And when I made that statement I was crying. I had just killed a man. I was torn up.”

Conn asked if what he testified Tuesday was the truth or was his original statement. “What I’m saying today is the truth. I just left out that he threatened to kill me. He came into my house, and I was not able to fight him. He came into my house and threatened to beat me to death. I was just protecting my own life.”

The trial is set to resume today at 10 a.m. Closing arguments are expected this afternoon and the jury is likely to deliberate.