Dean Narciso The Columbus Dispatch
Friends and family of the man charged with illegally selling a handgun to a friend charged with killing two Westerville police officers told a federal magistrate Wednesday that he is a loving, caring father who did nothing to harm anyone.
Federal Prosecutor Noah Litton countered that Gerald A. Lawson III, 30, knew exactly what he was doing when he bought and sold a Glock semiautomatic pistol to Quentin L. Smith in May and falsified federal firearms transaction forms to buy it.
Smith is accused of using that gun Saturday to kill veteran police Officers Anthony P. Morelli and Eric Joering when they responded to a 911 hang-up call at Smith‘s home on Cross Wind Drive. The call had been made by Smith‘s wife during a domestic-violence situation and both officers were shot as they came to the Westerville townhome.
After about two hours of testimony and arguments in the Columbus federal courtroom, U.S. Magistrate Kimberly A. Jolson ruled that Lawson, of Warrensville Heights in Cuyahoga County, will remain in federal custody without bond. She said that Lawson‘s actions contribute to the “epidemic” of gun violence and “risked the public‘s safety.”
The courtroom was packed with police officers honoring Morelli and Joering, as well as others supporting Lawson, whose attorney and family argued that he should be free on bond pending his court case.
Teresa Pettit, a special agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testified that she began tracing the murder weapon shortly after it was recovered inside the Cross Wind Drive residence.
Pettit said that Lawson misused his clerk‘s position in the Cuyahoga County prosecutor‘s office, where he had worked from 2007 to 2014. She said he had researched Smith‘s court file related to a 2009 conviction for burglary and domestic violence, which prevented Smith from legally buying a gun.
Lawson is a friend of Smith‘s and had frequent with him, including when Smith was in prison, Pettit testified. Lawson was paid $100 more than the cost of the gun to buy it for Smith, officials said.
She also testified that on Sunday, the day after the officers were killed, Lawson had sent a flurry of text messages to friends and family in support of Smith, some acknowledging his disbelief at what had happened in Westerville.
One text from Lawson stated, “I wasn‘t thinking no s*** like this was even possible.”
After his arrest at the Cuyahoga County home he shares with his mother, Lawson was driving with Pettit to Columbus when “he broke down crying,” she said.
Margaret Wyatt, Lawson‘s mother, said her son works two jobs to support his three children, ages 4 to 9.
“I didn‘t need to monitor him,” she said. “He‘s always been laid back. He doesn‘t like trouble … He would never do anything to harm anyone.”
At one point, Wyatt paused to address Westerville officers seated next to her in court.
“We feel your pain. You‘re in our prayers. You have my condolences,” she said tearfully. She implored Jolson to release her son, saying she would make sure he was at future court appearances, including a preliminary hearing set for next Wednesday.
Litton asked many of the character witnesses whether they knew that Lawson had previous charges against him, including a contempt charge for failure to appear in court in Geauga County on traffic violations in 2016. Court records show the charge was later dismissed.
Public Defender George Chaney said the heavy presence of police in the courtroom slanted the proceeding against Lawson. Litton said he took exception to the “insinuation of some sort of intentional coercion.”