published Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Co-defendant Preston Parker testifies in Bledsoe County murder trial

  • photo
    Lonnie Angel Jr., left, is facing trial this week in the 2009 beating death of Donny Lawson during a cookout at Angel's property in Pikeville. At right, is Angel's defense council, Jim Smith, speaking to Circuit Court Judge Rusty Graham.
    Photo by Ben Benton.
    enlarge photo

PIKEVILLE, Tenn. -- Lonnie Lee Angel Jr., one of four defendants in the 2009 beating death of a 44-year-old man, would not let anyone leave the winter cookout as the victim lay dying in a barn, according to testimony Monday.

In Bledsoe County Circuit Court, co-defendant Preston Parker, already serving 171/2 years in a guilty plea to second-degree murder in the case, told jurors Monday that he was the first to hit victim Donny Lawson, but testified that all four defendants took part in the attack.

But defense counsel Jim Smith told jurors in his opening statement that no witnesses saw Lonnie Angel Jr. strike Lawson, except for witnesses charged in the death. Smith also said there were accounts that Angel attempted to help the victim.

Angel is charged with first-degree murder, felony murder and kidnapping in the Feb. 21, 2009, incident, court record show. The same charges were filed against three other men -- Parker, Ray Tullos and Clinton Watson.

Tullos was sentenced last month to 11 years in Lawson's death, while Watson's court date is pending.

Parker, dressed in prison clothing, testified that he and Angel had been drinking beer on the property for about an hour when Angel's father, Lonnie Angel Sr., drove up with Lawson. Watson arrived about an hour after that, Parker testified. A little while later an argument began, then dissolved into a deadly melee.

Parker said Lawson made a "smart" comment about relative Clyde Angel, who died in a 2008 house fire. Parker said he grabbed Lawson by his beard and hit him "with my left as he went down and I kicked him a few times ... in the head."

When Lawson attempted to get up, Parker testified that he "kicked him again."

After Lawson was attacked, Lonnie Angel Jr. told everyone else that they couldn't leave, Parker testified.

A short time later, Tullos arrived, according to testimony. When Tullos was told what Lawson had said about the 2008 fire, "he went to grabbing everything and clubbing [Lawson] with it," Parker testified, noting Tullos and Clyde Angel were friends.

Parker said Tullos hit Lawson with a large bottle, a pair of boots and a fencepost driver as Lawson lay helpless. He also testified that Watson kicked Lawson "once or twice" and said that Lonnie Angel Jr. also kicked the victim.

Parker testified that the younger Angel then pulled a pistol and talked about shooting Lawson and take him to the "rock crusher," an abandoned dump site in Bledsoe County.

Angel Sr. -- who had been asleep in the pickup truck he'd arrived in -- stopped his son from using the gun, Parker said. The elder Angel wanted to leave, but his son continued to refuse to allow anyone to go, Parker said.

When Angel Sr. was finally allowed to leave, he summoned authorities and Lawson was taken to a local hospital, where he died, according to testimony.

As the estimated three-day trial moves into its second day of testimony today, Assistant District Attorney Jim Pope will continue to call state's witnesses. The defense is expected to begin its part in the trial today or Wednesday, officials said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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