published Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Sheriff: Double homicide over custody dispute

A flatbed wrecker from the Bradley County Sheriff's Office removes Aaron Lawson's vehicle from his uncle's auto parts business near Birchwood on Wednesday. Aaron Lawson faces charges in the Tuesday night shooting deaths of Charles and Deborah Phillips at their home north of Cleveland, Tenn.
A flatbed wrecker from the Bradley County Sheriff's Office removes Aaron Lawson's vehicle from his uncle's auto parts business near Birchwood on Wednesday. Aaron Lawson faces charges in the Tuesday night shooting deaths of Charles and Deborah Phillips at their home north of Cleveland, Tenn.

CHARLESTON, Tenn. — The Bradley County man charged with two counts of murder shot his daughter’s grandparents over a custody dispute, the sheriff said Wednesday.

Aaron Lawson, 32, of Cleveland, Tenn., waited outside the home of Charles “Eddie” and Deborah Phillips near Charleston on Tuesday night until the couple came outside, Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth said.

Lawson is the father of the Phillipses’ 11-year-old granddaughter, whose name has not been released. The sheriff didn’t give details on the exact nature of the custody dispute but said the Phillipses and Lawson had argued about the subject.

Ruth didn’t say why the couple came out of their house or if a fight broke out. But at some point Lawson apparently pulled out a 9 mm pistol and shot the couple — both in their 50s — several times each, Ruth said. Lawson then sped out of the driveway in his pickup truck around 8:45 p.m.

A manhunt involving multiple agencies lasted all Tuesday night and half of Wednesday. Then authorities got a tip that Lawson was hiding at the business of a family member off Highway 58 in north Hamilton County. A SWAT team and other officers staked out the business for several hours until they were able to arrest Lawson without trouble, police said.

“You never know what way they are going to react,” said Bradley County Chief Deputy Wayne Bird, explaining authorities were ready for “suicide by cop,” a situation in which someone provokes police into shooting.

Lawson was charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

Police have not released the name of the child’s mother, who lives in Cleveland. They said she and Lawson had been in a relationship but could not confirm if they had been married or when the relationship ended.

She has custody of the daughter but Lawson was allowed visitation, authorities said.

Bird said authorities believe Lawson went over to the grandparents’ home intending to kill them.

A woman at the home of Lawson’s parents answered the phone Wednesday and identified herself as Mrs. Lawson, but declined to comment.

“[Lawson’s parents] are very upset by this,” the sheriff said.

The quaint neighborhood on Leatha Lane N.W. where the Phillipses lived was silent Wednesday morning except for chirping birds. The house the couple built in 1988 — a cottage-style home with a green tin roof — looked untouched.

The shooting took place between the garage and the couple’s camper at the end of the driveway, authorities said. But rain Tuesday night seems to have washed away any evidence, a deputy at the scene said.

As the sun rose Wednesday, neighbors began to stir, coming outside, chatting and shaking their heads.

“It’s just a tragic situation,” said Luci Moore, who has lived across the street from the Phillipses for about 15 years. “They have just been real good neighbors.”

Other neighbors were in shock, saying that nothing violent ever has happened in the neighborhood.

“On Leatha Lane of all places,” said Virginia Wilkins, who lives several houses from the Phillipses.

Eddie Phillips, 58, and his wife, Deborah, 54, were often seen gardening in their flowerbeds and taking care of the lawn, Moore said. A grandson frequently was seen playing in the couple’s yard, she said.

Eddie Phillips also owned an auto repair shop in Polk County, Ruth said.

“You can go in their house and see a lot of pictures of kids and grandkids,” the sheriff said. “You can just tell that they share a lot of love with a lot of folks.”

Lawson was out on bond for an aggravated assault charge in February, the sheriff said.

A police report showed the charge came after Lawson and another man got into a fight at Bonnie’s Talk of the Town bar in Cleveland. The men were kicked out of the bar and Lawson stabbed the other man in the stomach, then fled, the report showed.

Since 1996, Lawson also has been arrested multiple times on charges of DUI, reckless endangerment and speeding. He also has a theft charge from 2002, court records show.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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Leaf said...

Chet, it sounds like you are blaming the grandparents for their own murder because they let their grandchildren visit. I'm sure you didn't mean it that way.

April 21, 2011 at 9 a.m.
noapathy said...

Wow Chet, What the heck does any of this have to do with you being a Democrat? Because Republicans would see this differently? I'm not sure that's relevant to this at all. I thank GOD for grandparents. They are often the voice of reason when both parents get into a heated argument over custody or any other issue where emotions cloud the situation. I'm thinking your response comes from a personal experience other than this because Mr. Lawson has obviously sealed his fate with the way he has chose to deal with this situation. I'm also positive that if he was capable of killing other human beings, he had no business raising his daughter. That's the one thing in retrospect that we can be sure of. Of course the real loser here is his daughter, he selfishly thought of her last and put his own needs/agenda first. She has now lost her father and two grandparents over his inability to rehabilitate himself and regain custody the appropriate way. It may have taken time to re-establish himself to be a savory character but that would have been a much better way to see his daughter in the future, not thru prison bars. If she even chooses to see him ever again. Please don't speak ill of the dead, I'm fairly sure they have never spoken ill of you.

April 21, 2011 at 11:18 a.m.

The paper says he had visitation with his daughter. It doesn't state that anyone kept the child away from him even though if it were me, and my daughters dad had a horrid wrap sheet, I wouldn't allow unsupervised visits! Someone who would stab a stranger in the stomach over a lil dispute? This guy was out to hurt everyone he got upset with, the daughter would have been next, or even her mother. This guy should be locked up the rest of his life, or shot execution style like he did these loving grandparents. Just my opinion. And we all have one :)

April 21, 2011 at 12:40 p.m.
chet123 said...

leaf....please understand......the word "custody dispute" was the KEY WORD.......someone rational thinking would had deal with this problem in a different matter...a mad man will go down blazing..fortunately it didnt go that far with the police. Leaf this is very common....even lawyers and judges have been vengefully attacked in custodt battles dispute....This story indicates they had been arguing over Lawson daughter...There are people who will kill you about their children(not my opinion a FACT). CPD will tell you domestic dispute are deadly..I dont condone but i condemn Lawson action however, my opinion wont deter a parent rage. I beleive in a proactive approach instead of a reactive approach...Sadly to say..."this is a reactive approach"

April 21, 2011 at 2:42 p.m.
chet123 said...

as far as the bar fight...give me a break...paper indicate both guys got kicked out(both was drunk) victim there!..Sound like both men had to much to drink...Lawson got to his knife before the other guy got to his gun lol lol..that doesnt nessary mean he was a bad father..(his crimnal charges were weak charges).Didnt tennessee republican legislator try to pass a bill that would allow lincense gun owner to carry guns in resturant and clubs LOL LOL....

April 21, 2011 at 2:55 p.m.
chet123 said...

should have went to court for custody...and had a restranging order plce against him....

April 21, 2011 at 3:14 p.m.
chet123 said...

that why i say this will happen again!!! it may be you next indian have to change your atitude

April 21, 2011 at 3:15 p.m.
chet123 said...

cant we all just get along

April 21, 2011 at 4 p.m.
bjones1084 said...

Chet, your comments are in extremely poor taste considering the events. Two people just lost their lives in a brutal murder. As a father I understand that people will do anything to protect their children, but nothing excusing taking an innocent life. Epecially not the life of your child's grandparents. He took any chance that he had to have a relationship with his daughter and flushed it down the toilet. There is no way to rationalize his actions. These events are not the victim's fault, they are not the mother's fault and they are definately not the little girl's fault. The only person to blame in this situation is the murderer!

April 21, 2011 at 4:13 p.m.
lions said...

Chet. You are a disgrace and what you have said is extremely hurtful, I sure hope no one of the family reads this. These were good people and all you know is what you hear on the news. How is taking the lives of someone going to give you more time with your daughter. I personally know Aaron and I know the daughter as well as the people that lost their lives. Obviously you are not a parent if so would you want to release your child to someone who has been in trouble alot in their past you give them a chance to be a father but they fall right back into the path of being in trouble. I am doubting it and if you would then that is your business but don't condem someone that was trying to do what was best for a child at a certain point in time. I sure hope nothing like this ever happens to any of your children or anyone in your family. eddie and debbie were some of the nicest people you would ever come across. No matter what it was over killing grandparents is not going to resolve it. God bless you and too bad you weren't taught if you can't say something nice then keep your mouth shut.

April 21, 2011 at 4:23 p.m.
chet123 said...

oh yeah ....GUN by the gun die by the gun....NRA laughing all the way to the bank

April 21, 2011 at 4:38 p.m.
chet123 said...

tell that cry baby indian...that what goes around come around.....

April 21, 2011 at 4:41 p.m.
chet123 said...

so the hater feeling got hurt....whinnnnnnnnnnnnnn1

April 21, 2011 at 4:41 p.m.
chet123 said... have a lot of nerve....everything you have said is documented...all your comments...i invite the pollster to look how many times you have said ill remarks,,,like shooting and killing...that all you talk about..."killing someone and dumping their body in city dump like an animal" that is a seem to me you just got called you crying..whineeeeeee! i'm a victim.. whineeeeeeee i'm a grow up!!! got to be a republican...democrats wouldnt write such foolishness!!

April 22, 2011 at 6:24 p.m.
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