Zoellner’s family denying he murdered HSU student

Paul Mann
Mad River Union

ARCATA – The family of accused murderer Kyle Zoellner has issued a lengthy statement to the press, arguing “unequivocally” that the 23-year-old did not stab to death Humboldt State University sophomore Josiah Lawson, 19, at a house party here on April 15.

Kyle Zoellner

The family alleges that multiple fights were in progress, that Zoellner himself was the victim of a beating and that he was down on the ground immobilized and unconscious for several minutes before an unidentified person “in the background yelled, ‘Someone got stabbed!’”

Unconscious, according to the family, their loved one could not possibly have stabbed Lawson.

The family’s communiqué omits the fact that Zoellner admitted that "he was involved in a physical fight” with Lawson, according to the probable-cause notes submitted to the court by Arcata Police Detective Sgt. Todd Dokweiler

Certain of the defendant’s innocence, the Zoellner family warns,  “There is an active murderer in the community that must be found now so others’ lives are not at risk of something happening again, like the tragic death of Josiah Lawson.”

Citing hearsay, the family’s version of events states that “one or more of the girls” who were at the party on Spear Avenue “shared what they witnessed to (sic) the father of Kyle soon after the stabbing.”

In turn, the father provided an unidentified “family spokesperson” with what he learned second-hand from one or more of the unidentified females. The content of the prepared statement is attributed to the spokesperson, who is described as getting “this version of the stabbing out to the public,” as it “completely contradicts what has been publically stated by both the victim’s friends and by the police.”

The family’s side of story runs as follows:

Zoellner’s girlfriend and three female companions at the after party needed a ride home. Zoellner, who took the call at his home and was the designated driver, agreed to pick them up at around 3 a.m.

“Kyle’s girlfriend could not find her phone,” according to the family, a statement corroborated by other witnesses at the party who were friends of Lawson.

The family alleges that as Kyle asked partygoers if they had seen his girlfriend’s phone, she “was struck in the face by one of the men (she still has a black eye).” The family does not explain whether the alleged assault was sudden and spontaneous, if it stemmed from a verbal slanging match or from another motive.   

The family’s statement continues: “Then an altercation ensued between Kyle and one of the men at the party (this individual was not Josiah). Kyle got him into a hold until he finally released him.” The statement does not offer a description of the alleged assailant.

The family’s narrative goes on: “[Kyle’s] car keys and cell phone came out of his sweatshirt while he had been wrestling on the ground and as he was looking for them, he was attacked by multiple individuals that began punching and kicking him. Kyle never got off the ground.

“During the attack two of the girls [unnamed] were spraying mace to try to protect Kyle and witnessed exactly what took place during the entire period of the altercation that involved Kyle and the attackers.

“After Kyle had been beaten and was unconscious for several minutes, someone in the background yelled ‘Someone got stabbed.’ (There were multiple fights going on at this time, according to the police and witnesses.)

“The family believes Kyle deserves to have the above information shared to [sic] the public (that came from eyewitnesses) so both the public and police can start asking critical questions to bring out the truth of this tragic event.”

In a non sequitur referring to unsourced “reported information” not otherwise detailed, the family denies that Zoellner assaulted his sister. The statement does not specify where the denied assault took place or if it was connected with the fatal turmoil on Spear Avenue.

“The alleged incident,” the family asserts, “was nothing but a sibling fight between Kyle and his sister that has been ridiculously overblown and did not involve a weapon.”

Offering a character reference, the family described their loved one as “a responsible young man who has had the same job for three years and works 40-50 hours a week.”

Voicing sorrow for Lawson’s violent death, the statement concludes, “the family is heartbroken that a young man’s life was lost and our family, which is a family of Faith, has continually been praying for all the family and friends of Josiah.”        

Zoellner’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for Monday, May 1. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment and is being held on $1 million bail.

A man identifying himself as Zoellner’s uncle, Jay Zoellner, publicized a separate statement prior to the family’s communiqué. He recounted the concern of Lawson’s mother, Charmaine Michelle Lawson, who said in the days immediately after the alleged murder that she had been told by Arcata police that Zoellner might be released because no one at the scene witnessed him with a knife. A knife was taken into evidence by police afterward.

Citing apparent discrepancies in the statements of eyewitnesses, Jay Zoellner declared, “The community of Arcata must start asking questions, as nothing makes sense at this time. This investigation must be immediately restarted with an intense focus on every single component of the actual facts that took place (sic) the morning of the stabbing. This must be done for both the families of Josiah and Kyle.”

Earlier this week, the Union invited Zoellner’s mother and any of her son’s companions at the party to be interviewed, the invitation submitted via the public defender’s office. To date no response has been received.


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