Mother offers $10K reward in Lawson slaying case

The May 18 announcement at Humboldt State. as streamed on Facebook. From the Justice for David Josiah Lawson Facebook page

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

ARCATA – As the homicide investigation enters its second month in the knife slaying of Humboldt State University student Josiah Lawson, his mother has offered a $10,000 reward to find the killer.

Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman announced no new leads in the probe at a May 18 press conference at Humboldt State University. Charmaine Michelle Lawson visited the campus to announce the reward and appeal for more information from witnesses at an Easter weekend party where her son was fatally stabbed on April 15.   

Lawson pleaded with the community at large and anyone who attended the Spear Avenue gathering of some 50-100 people to speak up in a case that has been stalled by a lack of evidence.

A judge dropped charges against a McKinleyville man, Kyle Zoellner, because a knife found at the scene could not be linked to him. Witnesses gave conflicting accounts of what happened and no one claimed to have seen the stabbing or the knife.

“I’m speaking to the mothers of every person who was at that party that night,” Lawson told reporters.

“Sit down with your children again,” she pressed. “I don’t care how small it is, just ask them, ‘What happened? What happened?’ Someone knows what happened to my son. And as a mother I am pleading with you to come forward.”     

Reinforcing Lawson’s appeal, HSU student Elijah Chandler, a friend and schoolmate of Josiah Lawson, sought to allay fears of retaliation for sharing information after the fact. There will be no punishment, he said, urging partygoers to set aside personal shame or guilt in the interests of learning the truth about Josiah Lawson’s death.

“You shouldn’t be afraid to come forward,” Chandler admonished. “Have the courage to do the right thing ... People are hurting right now and they will continue to hurt deeply until they know the answers to what happened that night.”

He emphasized that persons of color, including HSU students, do not feel safe in Arcata in the knowledge that the “people who did this are still walking around” free and at large.

In announcing the $10,000 reward, Charmaine Michelle Lawson told reporters and several dozen HSU staff, “This is a mother’s worst nightmare.”

Recounting the horror she suffered at word of her son’s fate, she said, “No mom should ever receive the phone call I received that morning [April 15], telling her that her son is dead.”

Lawson was accompanied at the press conference by a cousin, Matt Weaver, a second cousin, Keesha Weaver of Galt, Calif. and by Chapman, who ruled out questions.

HSU President Lisa Rossbacher spoke briefly with Lawson afterward.

Chapman and Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming are pursuing more evidence. Further analysis is being done on a knife recovered by APD Officer Krystle Arminio from underneath a car parked in the 1120 Spear Ave. cul-de-sac, shortly after Lawson was taken by ambulance to Mad River Community Hospital.

Neither a single fingerprint nor fibers found on the knife were linked to Zoellner, 23, who pleaded not guilty. He admitted to being in a fight with Lawson, but not to murdering him.

According to some witnesses, Zoellner was unconscious for one to three minutes after his initial fight with Lawson, apparently touched off by the two men’s girlfriends. To date, no one has pointed on the record to an alternative suspect, including witnesses who testified at Zoellner’s preliminary hearing.

Further items of clothing – only Zoellner’s sweatshirt or hoodie was examined in the immediate aftermath – will be examined for blood samples, Fleming said May 5, shortly after Zoellner was released from custody.

Any future charges will hinge on available evidence, Fleming said. Hence the Lawson family’s offer of a reward and a solicitation for donations on Facebook and a Gofundme page.

Information about the stabbing can be submitted to investigators at the Arcata Police Department, (707) 822-2428, the District Attorney’s Office, (707) 445-7411, or to Lawson’s attorney, Justin Sanders, at (213) 426-5000, ext. 1000.



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