News » Cover Stories

Some call this justice

Waldron woman kills tormentor and ends up with a 20-year prison sentence. 



Eve Lawson, like many people, thought the criminal justice system was there to help people like her — honest and law-abiding. More than that, Eve has been described by those who know her best as quiet, shy — timid even.

Eve, born and raised in Waldron and now 41, had no criminal record, no record of violence. A childhood friend who now lives in Little Rock recalled Eve as "gentle and kind and a lover of animals, particularly horses. ... She was one of the last people you ever thought would kill someone."

But on May 20, 1998, Eve did kill someone. His name was Russell Rogers, and, for almost a month, he was Eve's boyfriend. She said she killed him for a very good reason: because he abducted her and was going to kill her.

She has never denied killing Rogers. The first thing she did after she shot him to death in the bedroom of his isolated Scott County shack was walk a half-mile to the nearest phone and ask the neighbors to call the sheriff, because "I've shot Russell."

Not even law enforcement authorities dispute that. They don't dispute that Rogers had abused her — they photographed her bruises — though they dispute the extent of the abuse. A lot of people don't even dispute that Rogers was a violent, disturbed person.

One of the jurors at Lawson's trial said he'd heard later that Rogers, 36 when he died, "was a pretty sorry guy." Rogers' ex-wife testified to years of violence at his hands. The lead investigator of the case, Alex Sylvester of the State Police, said Rogers and Lawson "both were victims."

As for Lawson, she just wants someone to get her story right. As she sees it, that's where her trouble with the criminal justice system began. No one listened. No one investigated her kidnapping and abuse. No one asked the right questions. Not law enforcement, not even her lawyers. The investigators "tried to tell me what happened."

"I was arguing with them because they were trying to tell me my story," Lawson said during an interview in prison. She was convicted last year of second-degree murder and sentenced to 20 years. "Still today, that story has yet to come out."

Lawson looks an interviewer directly in the face when she speaks. She has to. She is partially deaf. She has a hearing loss of about 50 percent, an audiologist's report says. Lawson contracted encephalitis when she was 19 and almost died. She spent months in the hospital, was paralyzed from the waist down for a time and had to relearn how to walk and talk. After leaving the hospital, she suffered a relapse, was hospitalized again and after that gradually started losing her hearing.

Because she was not born into the world of the deaf, or exposed to it as a child, she never learned sign language. Hearing aids helped for about 10 years but eventually became ineffective, amplifying ambient noise so greatly that she couldn't understand someone speaking to her.

Lawson learned to make do. She reads lips and if someone looks directly at her, has a tone of voice she can understand, speaks clearly and there are no other distractions in the room, she can comprehend an interviewer, half through her limited hearing, half through lip-reading. Even then, she sometimes misunderstands.

"Every now and then, I just kind of throw in what I think is being said," Lawson said. "And it gets me by just fine."

Or it did until she found herself charged with first-degree murder.

The encephalitis, coupled with the resulting hearing loss, left Lawson with mobility problems. She loses her balance easily, must hold tightly to stair rails when she climbs steps and finds it almost impossible to run.

Lawson, blond and pale, was teary-eyed and angry through much of the interview. She has every reason to be. The system she thought was there to protect her failed her at almost every step.

During her trial in February 2000, Lawson testified to a series of abuses inflicted on her by Rogers. They occurred over two days after he took her, with a gun in his hand, from her home to his lonely, ramshackle house, almost 20 miles from town. They include rape, sodomy, death threats and Rogers' pointing and firing guns at her head.

Eve Lawson had no interpreter during her initial investigation by the State Police, though state law mandates assistance for a deaf person, defined as "a person with a hearing loss so great as to prevent his understanding language spoken in a normal tone."

Lawson and her supporters believe her legal representation was inadequate. Her first lawyer, James Cox of Greenwood, was dismissive of her, she said. Her trial lawyers, the father-son team of Tom Tatum Sr. and Tom Tatum II, or "Big Tom" and "Little Tom" as they are known, showed divided loyalties because of personal political ambitions, Lawson and others contend.

She said she heard and understood nothing of the all-important suppression hearing that sought to have her confession thrown out because no interpreter was present. Lawson said when she demanded Cox tell her what had happened during the hearing, "he just laughed."

Although she admitted she killed Rogers, tests showed no gun powder residue on her hands. Her fingerprints weren't on the pistol. Without the confession, the police would have had little evidence against Lawson, said her friends and lawyer Cathi Compton of Little Rock, who represented Lawson in her motion for a new trial

In testimony during the hearing on Lawson's request for a new trial, "Big Tom" Tatum admitted that during Lawson's trial he had asked an audience member who happened to be kin to Rogers, "Am I losing any votes?"

"Little Tom," who served as Lawson's lead defense counsel, went on to win election in November 2000 as prosecuting attorney for the 15th Judicial District, of which Scott County is a part. He defeated Prosecutor Jerry Don Ramey in their third election showdown.

Tom Tatum Sr., once the district prosecutor himself, said his comment about losing votes was an old joke between friends and did not reflect divided loyalties. Circuit Judge Paul Danielson, Lawson's trial judge, apparently believed him. He denied Lawson's motion for a new trial, and the Arkansas Court of Appeals affirmed his decision. The state Supreme Court has refused to hear Lawson's case.

Even sworn statements by a member of the trial audience that he saw at least one juror conversing with Rogers' family made no impression on the court. And the court didn't care that the Tatum team presented no character witnesses on Lawson's behalf during the sentencing phase after her conviction.

So Lawson sits in the McPherson Unit of the state Department of Correction, in Newport. She has been there now about six weeks. She voiced bewilderment by the turn her life has taken, by the treatment she had received, treatment that, until she met Russell Rogers, was utterly foreign to her. Yet even in her bewilderment, Eve Lawson was able to declare, "I'm still sane."

"Eve was timid"

Eve Lawson was born and raised in Scott County, the youngest of three children and the only daughter. Her parents owned a farm, on which they raised cattle. Her older brother is Eugene, an inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration who lives in Des Moines. A middle brother died in an auto accident in the 1970s.

Eugene Lawson is 14 years older than Eve. "She grew up on the farm, of course, around animals, around life, death, destruction," Eugene Lawson said of his sister. "Daddy was a horse person and she adopted that love of horses. She always had cats and dogs."

Scott County nestles against Oklahoma and in many ways is more western than southern. At a funeral, about a third of the men will wear, instead of a suit, their best boots, cleaned and pressed jeans and a nicely brushed cowboy hat.

It's a beautiful hilly area, much of it occupied by the Ouachita National Forest, rugged and remote.

Scott County is also poor. The top employer is Tyson Foods, which owns the poultry plant and pays for the chickens grown on poultry farms throughout the county. Some logging is still done there, but that's backbreaking, sometimes dangerous and low-paying work. Many of the schoolteachers and people who have jobs at the stores in town also have small farms where they may run a few head of cattle.

Of course, just about everyone knows everyone in Scott County, though some think it's not the friendliest of places. People who've lived there have described it as "clannish."

Eve Lawson graduated from Waldron High School in 1978 and married at 22. Soon after she wed, she and her husband moved to Texas, where she attended two years of community college. When her father died in September 1994, Lawson moved back home. Her marriage broke up about that time and she was divorced in 1995.

After that she helped her mother with the farm, living in a modest rental house east of town owned by her mother. Lawson said she had worked some factory jobs but mostly she helped her elderly mother, who had broken her hip, and was supported by her financially. Her needs were few, and though opportunities in Scott County are limited, at the same time the cost of living is low.

Money "wasn't a priority in her life," her brother said. "Horses were her life. If she had $20 to buy horse feed with and a glass of milk, she was happy."

That same picture of Eve is painted by the Parker family of Waldron. Jerry and Sarah Jo Parker have lived in Waldron for 28 years. Sarah Jo is from Arkansas but moved with her family to California when she was a girl. There, she met Jerry. They married and eventually came to Scott County where they had a restaurant and some other small businesses. They did well in business and are now retired.

They met Eve through their son, David, in 1995. David and Eve dated for about four years. He was widowed 10 years ago and left with two stepdaughters and two daughters of his own to raise. David Parker and his late wife owned a grocery store. David Parker also prospered and is now retired at the age of 41. His stepdaughters are grown, and he devotes his time to his two teen-aged daughters.

The Parkers are affluent, certainly by Scott County standards. Sarah Jo and Jerry are active in Democratic politics and were and remain big supporters of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

An interview with the Parkers took place in their comfortable Waldron home, where scores of family photographs hung on the walls and every bare spot held some sort of Christmas decoration. They fed guests pizza from their restaurant and a chocolate cake Mrs. Parker made.

The Parkers love Eve, and she loves them. "They know more about me and the way I am than my own family does," Lawson said, and she described David's daughters as "a great bunch." Although she and David broke off their romantic relationship, they remain friends.

Even in prison, even with her haggard face, much remains of Eve's delicate beauty. At the time of her arrest, she was 115 pounds and 5 feet 5 inches tall. She looks as if she's put on a little weight in prison, but that's not unusual. Prison diets tend to be starch-heavy, and in civilian life Eve was physically active, helping out on her mother's farm, riding her horses, zooming on her jet ski with David Parker when they were dating and he owned a condo on Lake Hamilton.

The Parkers have many pictures of Eve — Eve with David, Eve with his daughters, Eve with friends. She is always smiling.

"We liked Eve," Sarah Jo Parker said. "We took to Eve right away. Eve was real kind. She fit right in. She was real good to the girls. ... We thought Eve was part of our family."

Eve spent a lot of time with David's daughters. Asked whether their grandchildren ever reported that Eve was unduly harsh or mean, they laughed, and Mrs. Parker said, "Oh, no. They may have been mean to her."

David Parker said, "Eve was timid. She'd go out of her way not to have a confrontation, to the point where she let people run over her."

When it comes to Lawson's shooting of Rogers, Mrs. Parker said flatly, "I know Eve knew she would not get out of there alive. She wanted to live, as most of us do."

"It's still hard for me to believe," David Parker said. "I know she did it because she says she did it, but she must have literally been scared out of her mind."

"The perfect gentleman"

Lawson met Russell Rogers through her mother, Flora, in the spring of 1998. Rogers bought a tractor from Mrs. Lawson. Eve would visit her mother and she "would tell me, 'You've just missed him.' "

Eve didn't really want to meet Russell. She remembered him as a teen-ager. "He was arrogant. He was loud. He was someone to stay away from."

But eventually, Eve and Russell met at her mother's home. Rogers called her. "He was the perfect gentleman," Lawson said. "It was hard to believe that he was the same person that I knew when I was a teen-ager."

They started dating, but after only two or three weeks, Lawson said, Rogers began getting "possessive." If she went somewhere without him, Rogers would quiz her about whom she had talked to. "He got to be more controlling. He wanted me to do certain things certain ways."

Then came Sunday, May 17, 1998. "He was wanting me to sign the titles of my truck and jet ski over to him," Lawson said. "He was getting more physically aggressive."

Methamphetamine use and manufacture is a scourge throughout Arkansas, particularly in rural areas. When police searched Rogers' house after the slaying, they found numerous guns, including one with a silencer, handcuffs, scales and other drug paraphernalia. The state medical examiner's office, however, reported no drugs in Rogers' body.

Asked whether Rogers used drugs, Lawson said, "Not that I know of. And to my knowledge there was none there at the house. He told me that, yes, he had been into the drug scene before. He was trying to get away from that, trying to better himself, better his life ... ."

Asked whether she has ever used illegal drugs, such as marijuana or meth, Lawson didn't hesitate with her answer. "Yes, back when I was a teen-ager [pot], and yes, I have tried meth. And it's a drug you should stay away from."

She said she used meth two or three times about five years ago. "I will admit a lot of my friends, they are into the drug scene big time. I still want to stay friends with them, but I don't play their games. I'd rather be out in the woods riding my horse and out around horse people and just doing what me and my dad used to do."

"He was going to show me"

When a reporter asked Eve to recount her May 18 abduction by Rogers and subsequent treatment, she became distraught. She asked in a sob-choked voice, "Did you not read the [trial] transcript? Do I have to do this all over again? I'm very sorry that I had to do what I had to do, but I would not be here if I hadn't done what I did."

The transcript indeed provides harrowing reading. It's not for the squeamish.

In her testimony, Lawson recounted arguing with Rogers at his house on the Sunday before the abduction.

Rogers "had begun to start acting strange and more — he didn't want me going by — anywhere by myself. ... [H]e just didn't trust me."

That day, Rogers asked Lawson to sign over to him her only really valuable possessions, her truck and her jet ski. "And he was getting loud and belligerent. And I told him I would, just to calm him down."

She spent Sunday night at Russell's house and the next morning he demanded Lawson go to the bank and get the titles to the truck and jet ski to give to him. She told him no, she'd changed her mind.

Rogers "started acting really weird and getting loud," Lawson told the court. She tried to leave, but he blocked the door. He picked her up and threw her down. She hit the couch and the coffee table. Rogers apologized, but Lawson left and went to her mother's house.

She told her mother the couple had argued and she wasn't going back. When her mother asked about the bruises on her leg, Lawson lied. "And I just told her that it was something I had done. I'm all the time bumping into stuff — and just to keep her from, you know, worrying."

Lawson returned to her house a few miles east of Waldron only to find Rogers waiting for her. He walked up to where she sat in her truck. He had a gun in his hand, Lawson testified. "And he said, 'I want you to shoot me.' And I said, 'No, I don't want to shoot you.' And he tried to put my hand on the gun."

Rogers then told her to enter her house, get some belongings and come with him back to his home. "He just said I wouldn't be coming back there," Lawson said.

As she tried to gather her things, Rogers began "ranting," Lawson said. "He was constantly talking and telling me how I'm a whore and a slave and, 'You need to get some things. We're going to my house. That's what your mother told me to do, is if you ever left, to go and get you and bring you back.' "

She grabbed a bag, her coffee maker, her dog and her purse. Rogers, with a shotgun in his truck as well as the handgun, drove them to his house.

"He told me to go in the kitchen and get him a Pepsi. And on the way he was, like, telling me I — he's going to have to teach me how to be a good woman. ..." She brought the drink to find Rogers sitting in a chair with a pistol in his hand "and he turned to me and he pointed it at me and cocked it and fired it. And I just — I just froze."

Rogers started laughing, Lawson said. "He started in telling me what a low person I was. I couldn't ever do anything right. He told me to go get in the bedroom and he would teach me, show me."

He threw Lawson on the bed, "all the time he was chanting, he was just talking, you know, he was going to teach me, he was going to show me. You know, I never could do anything right. My mom and dad spoiled me. I was going to have to learn how to be his good woman. And, just basically, he raped me. But, it was — he hurt me. He spread my legs apart as far as they could, would, go and — oh, I can't go on. I have my notes. His whole intention was to hurt me. It wasn't to have sex with me."

Lawson testified that Rogers alternated raping her with his penis with raping her with his hand, holding her arms above her head. "And he kept saying, 'Well, that's — I want it to hurt. This is the real world. You've got to learn.' "

She yelled for Rogers to stop. He laughed.

The rapes occurred off and on throughout Lawson's captivity. Rogers would rape Lawson and then he would point one of several rifles in the house at her and fire it, she testified. "He would say, 'If you ever leave me I'll shoot you. Don't ever try to leave me.' "

"It just went on and on continuously," Lawson said. "If I said something wrong it would set him off and he would just throw me down the hallway or he would get me on the couch." Finally, he sodomized her.

At some point during her captivity, Rogers took her into his bathtub-shower and shaved her pubic area. "When he was through I stood up and he kind of — he was, like, proud of himself or something. ... And he said, 'Yeah, I like you that way because you look like a little girl.' " And then he raped her again.

About 24 hours after Rogers took Lawson from her home, she began to expect someone to start looking for her. "Usually you wait 24 hours. If somebody is looking for you they'll find you ... . It came and went. And nobody showed up."

"Nobody was coming"

By Wednesday morning, Rogers was fatigued. After pointing the gun again at Lawson, he told her, "Look, you're tiring me out. I'm tired. I'm going to go lay down for a while." He took her with him to the bedroom. After a few minutes in bed, Lawson got up, telling Rogers she was going to go into the kitchen to make coffee.

As she waited for the coffee to brew, she sat in the living room. She got a cup of coffee and returned to the living room, Lawson told the court. She began looking at all the guns on the floor. She noticed a little derringer.

"I just started looking for that derringer. I don't know why. I just did. And — and when I found it I realized I was looking for this derringer because that's the only pistol-type of gun that I could use. And I knew then I was going to have to get myself out of this situation or he was going to kill me."

She entered the bedroom with the pistol. Rogers was in bed with his eyes closed. In her statement to police the day of the killing, she said, "I thought Russell was asleep, but I was not sure. I thought he was just playing sleep."

Her trial testimony is consistent with that initial statement. "He looked like he was asleep, but he wasn't asleep. I don't know how I knew, but he wasn't asleep," Lawson testified. "I think he was actually listening, waiting on that door, that front door to open for me to run."

But she couldn't pull the trigger. She walked back into the living room, back into the bedroom, several times. "I just — I'm not that type of person. ... I don't know. Nobody was coming. Nobody was helping me. And the last time I walked in there I took about two steps into the bedroom and I turned and I aimed the gun at his temple and I fired it. And I stood there for a few minutes ... because I had to make sure that he was dead because he was going to come and kill me.

"And as soon as I did that I walked back in the living room, picked up my dog and I picked up my purse and I walked out of the house."

Why didn't she run?

It took some time to find jurors to hear Lawson's case who weren't in some way related either to the victim or the defendant. Prosecutor Ramey said he didn't try the case himself because a member of his office staff was a relative of Eve's.

During Lawson's trial, Deputy Prosecutor Brian Mueller emphasized Lawson's failure to simply leave the house when Rogers closed his eyes. He asked why she didn't run out the back door into the tangled brush that surrounds Rogers' house. (Mueller failed to return several phone calls from the Arkansas Times.)

He asked why Lawson didn't immediately tell police she'd been raped. She could have been taken to a hospital and undergone a rape examination that might have bolstered her account of events.

There were a couple of other disturbing details. Lawson had $8,000 of Rogers' money in her purse when she was arrested, money he'd received for timber cut on his property. Police also found a note in Lawson's handwriting saying, "I want to control my own drug use."

Few jurors contacted by the Times were willing to talk about the trial. Virgil Cheek said the jury convicted her and gave her 20 years "because she was guilty. I just think she was guilty, that's all. You call the judge and talk to him about it," he said, hanging up.

Richard Yandell said, "I think she lied like a dog on the stand. When somebody goes to put the gun on you, do you grab a coffee pot and your dog before you leave?" referring to Lawson's departure from her home with Rogers.

"There were a lot of things that didn't make a lot of sense," Yandell said. Yandell thinks Rogers took Lawson to his remote house "to get her off the crank."

"What I heard later when this was over was she was on it for over 11 years," Yandell said. "There may have been nothing to it, but that's what I heard."

During the prison interview and during her trial testimony, Lawson's answers to these questions remained consistent.

She couldn't run because Rogers was almost always with her, because she has a physical disability that causes her to lose her equilibrium, and because she believed that he was feigning sleep, just waiting for her to make a break for it so he could shoot her as he had promised to do. And once the partially deaf Lawson turned around, she would have had no way to detect sound or movement by Rogers.

Asked why she didn't tell officers as soon as they arrived that she'd not only been abducted, she'd been raped and brutalized by Rogers, Lawson said, "I was scared." And, she said, the police weren't listening to her. During the interview with Sylvester and the two other troopers, one of them female, "They tried to tell me what happened."

Sylvester taped Lawson's statement the day she was arrested, as well as took notes, but because of what he described as a malfunction, the tape recorder didn't record the first 30 or 40 minutes of the interview. Once he realized the recorder wasn't working, Sylvester testified, he fixed the problem and recorded the rest of Lawson's statement.

"That tape recording that they lost, I was arguing with them because they were trying to tell me my story," Lawson said. "Everything I was trying to tell them, they were contradicting me."

"I was there [in the interview room at the sheriff's office] for five or six hours," Lawson said. "They're coming in and asking questions and then they're leaving and coming and asking more questions. I'm confused. I'm trying to hear, trying to listen, trying to understand. I'm already dead tired from the three days of what I'd gone through."

"Look, are you going to tell a man what you went through in any kind of detail? No, I'm not."

"I was embarrassed," she said. "I'm frightened. I'm scared. ... I was in a state of shock."

As for the money and the note, Lawson testified that while Rogers held her captive, he told her he wanted her to have the money and forced her to put it in her purse. He also forced her to write the note, she told the jury.

"And I said, 'Why are you making me write this?' And he said he didn't want me to turn into one of those crank whores. It didn't make no sense. Nothing made sense, what he was doing."

David Parker, Lawson's former boyfriend, said Lawson cared little about money. What Eve needed her mother provided. While David Parker was still operating his store, he would take home with him sometimes thousands of dollars in cash from the day's proceeds. Lawson was around the cash bag often and never stole anything from him.

Jean Doss of Little Rock is a licensed clinical social worker with a specialty in treating trauma survivors. She does not know Eve Lawson and played no role in her trial, but Doss works frequently with victims of sexual abuse.

Asked why Lawson wouldn't tell authorities she was raped, Doss replied, "For the same reason many women don't tell police they were raped," particularly when it's an acquaintance rape.

"There's a sense of embarrassment," Doss said. "There's also a fear, and a very realistic one, that the police will blame them," Doss said. "I've heard many women say it [the police interrogation] was like being raped again."

As for Lawson's having a cup of coffee while pondering whether to kill Rogers, Doss said, "I don't think it's odd at all. I think she was a responsible human being who didn't want to kill another human being. ... I can see where her thought processes would lead her to believe it's either him or me."

Apparently the first person Lawson told about the rapes was Dr. Travis Tunnell, a Little Rock psychologist. Her first lawyer, James Cox, sent her to Tunnell. Tunnell testified on Lawson's behalf.

"It took a while for her to really get to where she could talk about it," Tunnell told the Times. "In fact she was very, very reluctant to talk about the event itself, and it wasn't until toward the end of our sessions that she began to tell me in detail."

Tunnell said Lawson, months after the event, was still fearful. Adding perhaps to her difficulty in revealing the rapes was her hearing impairment, Tunnell said. "I made sure that I was facing her when we talked because she does read lips. And if she doesn't read lips, then she doesn't understand."

Tunnell believed Lawson's account of her ordeal. "Her story did not change. It remained the same all the way through," including in the written narrative she gave Tunnell.

Tunnell said he saw no evidence that Lawson had ever abused drugs. "She had told me that when she was younger she had tried marijuana and also, I think, that she said she'd tried meth a few times but did not like it."

Tunnell performed psychological tests on Lawson and found her free of mental pathology. He found that she was of above average intelligence. He also found that she was "very fearful. And she was still frightened."

"He [Rogers] stayed up all night. I asked her several times if she thought he was on anything. She said she never saw him take anything, but as I look back on it and saw the way she described it, he was high on something," Tunnell said, "because he just had too much energy."

"I'm not sure whether he had a back hoe or a front-end loader or something, but she told me that he dug holes in his yard," Tunnell said, "and talked about if she had ever wondered what it would be like to be buried alive."

He noted that after Lawson called police and they arrived, "she was very relieved that they were there, that she was going to be safe. And it surprised her that they began to feel like — of course, she knows right from wrong — but that she had done wrong. She felt like what she was doing was self-defense."

"She convinced me that that [shooting Rogers] was her only out."

Tunnell was surprised at the harshness of the verdict. "I felt like that she was going to go to jail and that she needed to be punished because she had taken someone else's life, but that was not pre-meditated. She didn't go over there with the idea she was going to kill him. People who commit a crime do not turn around and call the police and say, 'Look here what I did.' "

"A sense of humor"

In a telephone interview, Rogers' mother, Donna Stanfill, called Russell a good son, though, "after his daddy died, it really did upset him." Stanfill said she contracted spinal meningitis after the trial, and "a lot of things are not as clear to me as it might ought to be."

"Let me put it this way, there was so much infection in my brain, when I tell something I'm not sure I'm telling it right."

Asked to describe Russell's personality, Stanfill said she wouldn't have seen the side other people said they saw, though she added, "Now, he definitely had a sense of humor."

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation knows nothing about Russell Rogers' sense of humor, but investigators do know he had an extensive criminal history in that state, including burglary and weapons possessions charges, though he spent only 10 days in jail.

Kim Cook, a spokesman for the bureau, said Rogers was charged in 1981 in Custer County with driving under the influence, carrying a concealed weapon, resisting an officer and a misdemeanor traffic offense. Rogers pleaded guilty to eluding an officer, DUI and transporting a loaded firearm. He was fined $400 and received a 10-day jail sentence.

In 1982, Rogers was charged with grand larceny. He pleaded to second-degree burglary, his only felony, and received a two-year deferred sentence. In 1986, in Le Flore County, Rogers was arrested for carrying a firearm while under the influence of alcohol, possession of a weapon, DUI and having an open container in his vehicle. Rogers pleaded guilty to transporting a loaded firearm and DUI. He was fined $200 and received two 180-day deferred sentences.

During Lawson's trial, Rogers' ex-wife, Tanya Wooden of Quitman, called Rogers "controlling." That was hardly the worst of his habits.

He first became violent with her when they were dating. Wooden was 14 or 15 at the time. The two were in a truck together, and Rogers accused her of seeing another man. He began smashing Wooden's head into the passenger window and hit her in the face. He took her to his house and began shooting, she testified.

"I don't know if he was shooting at me or shooting out the door. But he started shooting. And I took off running out to the highway. I never looked back," Wooden told the jury.

She also testified to Rogers' habit of firing blanks at her from a pistol. "And I'd just be sitting there watching TV and he'd just start shooting it at me. And if no one has ever seen the flame come out of the end of a gun when it's shooting at you, it's a weird experience."

Wooden said, "You'd never knew whether it was going to be a real bullet or a blank."

Rogers did this to her at least once a week, Wooden said.

"And there'd be no reason whatsoever. He'd just do it. If I wouldn't cook dinner just right — he had to have his food strained. ... He didn't like chunks in his food. He wanted it all strained. And he made a special strainer that I had to strain food through."

The nervous giggle

In the Times interview with Lawson in prison, she laughs occasionally, an odd, sad laugh. Some of the trial observers, her lawyer Tom Tatum Sr., one of the jurors, Eve's brother, Eugene, and Eve herself acknowledge that she hurt her case by testifying. She was nervous, and when she's nervous, Eugene Lawson said, Eve laughs.

It's an unfortunate trait that he shares, Eugene Lawson said. "And it has affected me in my job," he said. "I've had people ask me, 'Why are you laughing? Are you laughing at me?' And I'd say, 'No, I'm laughing at the situation.' "

Eve Lawson's nervous giggle manifested itself particularly when she described the ugliest details of her abuse, the rapes and sodomy.

Juror Richard Yandell said, "She says she was sodomized. She explained it in English and then she giggled."

"If she'd taken the Fifth Amendment and hadn't got on the stand, she would have walked," Yandell said.

Trauma survivors and those who work with them explain that such laughter is involuntary and common. It's a way of coping with the unbearable.

Doss, the Little Rock social worker, said, "Many people laugh inappropriately when they're nervous, when they're saying things that are embarrassing, when they're saying things they don't want to say. ... It's a nervous response. It's inappropriate, but it's not something that's generally under the control of the person who's doing it."

And, she said, "I would dare say that most of us, in certain situations, have done it. I don't think it's uncommon at all. You've heard the old adage, 'It's either laugh or cry?' And some people automatically go to the laughter rather than the tears. It is a defense."

Eugene Lawson thinks his sister's nervousness "prejudiced the jury. I think that's human nature. You put anybody on the stand — we're not actors on TV. The jurors expect to see what they see on TV, a serious, remorseful person, but TV is not true life."

The police and lawyers speak

Alex Sylvester, a special agent with Troop H in Fort Smith, was called in by the Scott County sheriff's office to handle the slaying investigation. He denied that he argued with Lawson, saying, "I was just trying to get her version of what happened."

Sylvester acknowledged that Lawson "said she'd been abducted and been taken to this place and why didn't I investigate that. I said, 'Well, the person who abducted you is dead.' "

"Sure she was a victim, from what she told me happened, the way he treated her, made her sit in a corner, 'learn how to be a woman,' " Sylvester said. "There must have been something that brought this on. But does that justify taking a life?"

Cox, Lawson's first lawyer, handled the motion to have Lawson's confession suppressed because of the lack of an interpreter during her interrogation by police. Cox told the Times, "After I was no longer on the case the issue of her hearing impairment became more pronounced. I had felt like I had made myself understood and we were communicating."

"I knew that she did not hear well, but I don't think that I was just insensitive to it. I think it took on a different degree of importance to her or to counsel later."

Tom Tatum Sr., who with his son and an associate handled Lawson's defense at trial, said he was "astounded" at the verdict. Tatum did take the trouble of getting a "real-time" court reporter to type in what was being said in court so that Lawson could read it on a screen.

He said Lawson was nervous on cross-examination, but when asked why he didn't present any character witnesses for Lawson during sentencing, Tatum seemed to contradict himself, saying, "because she had testified. ... I thought she did a good job."

Tom Tatum II said, "If you're familiar with the area you know the situation. Everyone knew Eve Lawson. Everyone knew her reputation," which was good. "And [jurors] got to see and observe her on the stand."

"If you get a criminal defendant who gets up there and you have jurors who don't like her demeanor or don't like her, you're limited in what you can do," Tatum II said.

In Lawson's motion for a new trial, handled by Cathi Compton, Tom Tatum Sr. sought to explain his question to Don Frost, a relative of Rogers: "Am I losing any votes?"

"It goes back to when I was first elected prosecutor. I was quite arrogant, had quite an arrogant personality. And Don Frost was always kind of after me a little bit and several other people that I was losing votes by being so arrogant. It's an old joke that goes way, way back."

And it had nothing to do with politics or his son's upcoming race for prosecutor, Tatum said.

Asked by the Times about the joke, Tatum said, "Whatever was in the transcript I'll stick with."

During Lawson's hearing seeking a retrial, Jerry Parker testified that he saw one of the jurors talk to Rogers' family several times when the judge was out of the courtroom. Neither the trial court nor the state Court of Appeals thought that the alleged conduct was enough for a new trial.

Even Travis Tunnell, the psychologist, said he observed several members of the jury in Lawson's trial "shaking hands and being very jovial with Russell's family. ... I felt like that was inappropriate. To me the jury had already made up their minds."

"I stood up for myself"

Some residents of Waldron said that had Lawson's father been alive, Eve wouldn't have been convicted, or perhaps even charged.

Eugene Lawson said, "If Dad had been alive, she wouldn't have tied up with this low-life cretin. And second off, Daddy was a justice of the peace. I can't tell you it would have turned out differently. I don't have that knowledge, but this would never have gotten started out in the beginning."

And "yes, I wholeheartedly believe the justice system in Scott County took advantage of a hearing-impaired woman and an elderly lady because there was no man there to voice a strong opinion."

As for Eve Lawson, she said, "If it had been a man in my shoes, he would have done the same thing. And I'm very sorry he's dead, that this happened. Look, I'm going to have to live with this for the rest of my life. But it was something I had to do because I wasn't going to leave there alive."

"I stood up for myself and I saved my own life and I'm still here, I'm so happy to be here," Lawson said. "I say that every day. But they're still blaming me? I don't understand."

Add a comment