For the second time in recent years, a Hawkins Co. homicide case will be the subject of a television show.
In October of 2018, the ID Network’s program “Murder Comes to Town” featured an episode on the murder of retired Mooresburg teacher Margaret Sliger.
Now, on April 21 of this year, the first episode of the show titled “Accused: Guilty or Innocent?” will premiere on A&E and will feature the 2017 shooting death of Beth “Chandra” Lawson by her husband, Bryan Steven Lawson.
Though Bryan was originally charged with first degree murder, the case went on for nearly two years and ended in Lawson accepting a plea agreement in February of 2019 of voluntary manslaughter in exchange for a 15-year sentence.
Voluntary manslaughter is a Class C felony punishable by 3-6 years for a first-time offender like Lawson, but he, and defense attorneys Larry and Daniel Boyd, agreed to accept the longer 15 year sentence as part of the plea agreement.
Ordinarily a first-time offender pleading to voluntary manslaughter would be eligible for parole after serving 30 percent of the sentence. Both the prosecution and defense agreed to reduce that to 20 percent as part of the plea agreement in light of the victim’s family approving the deal and Lawson’s clean record.
Readers can watch the show on A&E with most cable networks. The first episode, which will feature the Lawson case, will premiere on April 21 at 10 p.m. You can also watch a series preview on A&E’s website, which will be linked to the online version of this article.
Case background At the time of Chandra Lawson’s death, the couple was living in an apartment at 914 Holliston Mills Road in Church Hill.
An affidavit of a complaint filed by Church Hill Police Department Detective Ethan Mays in January of 2017 said that Lawson gave police permission to search the residence after they responded to a report of a shooting there and found Chandra Lawson, 40, deceased, and the couple’s young son uninjured.
After Hawkins Co. EMS personnel determined that Mrs. Lawson was deceased, officers took Mr. Lawson to CHPD headquarters to be interviewed.
Lawson waived his right to an attorney and gave consent for officers to search the residence/scene, Mays wrote.
“While conducting the search, a home surveillance system was discovered that was operational and actively recording,” Mays wrote. “I and other officers reviewed the recordings that revealed Bryan Steven Lawson firing a handgun, striking (Chandra) Lawson as their two-and-a-half-year-old son was beside her while standing in the living room of the residence.
“Based on the video evidence, it appears that the couple was in a domestic dispute. The dispute appeared to end as (Chandra) Lawson walked away from Bryan S. Lawson into another room.
“Bryan S. Lawson can be seen retrieving a handgun that is later identified as a Taurus .45.cal/.410-gauge revolver. Several minutes passed between the time of the dispute (and) Mr. Lawson retrieving the handgun and the time of the shooting.
“The recording reveals that Bryan S. Lawson walked outside and returned inside to retrieve the handgun and sit in a recliner. While sitting in the recliner, Bryan S. Lawson conceals the handgun and (Chandra) Lawson returns to the room with the child. (Chandra) Lawson appears to argue with Bryan S. Lawson and strike him in the head with an open hand. He then fires the weapon from inside of his pocket, striking (Chandra) Lawson in the stomach. (Chandra) Lawson falls to the floor. Bryan S. Lawson rises up from the chair and stands over her while pointing the gun at her.”
However, according to Lawson’s defense attorney, Larry Boyd, who also worked with his son and fellow attorney Daniel Boyd, there was more to the story than originally met the eye.
Highs and Lows
Boyd explained that Chandra actually had a record of abusing her husband.
“She was a bipolar personality and was given to ‘highs and lows,’ “Boyd told the Review of Chandra. “She had some severe swings in personality.”
In fact, on the evening of her murder, the video surveillance showed that the couple had been in a domestic dispute that went on for 45 minutes.
“She was on one of her high’s, had a ball bat and was trying to hit him and his foot,” Boyd said. “Bryan was born with a club foot and had had multiple surgeries on it before.”
The video surveillance from previous days also showed “several instances of her slapping him repeatedly across the face.”
Through the course of the case, Boyd obtained numerous records from Chandra’s various mental health providers.
“One of these records actually said, ‘When manic, she abuses her husband,” Boyd said.
Chandra had been treated for mental health problems for several years and had actually spent around two weeks at Woodridge Psychiatric Hospital in Johnson City not long before she was killed.
During the course of the case, Boyd also gave Chandra’s mental health records to Dr. Thomas Schacht, a former psychiatry professor at ETSU’s Quillen College of medicine.
“He (Schacht) prepared a summary that we then gave to the state,” Boyd said. “Of course, they knew she (Chandra) was bi-polar, but, after they saw that, that’s when the plea agreement was reached.”
A couple’s addiction
These records along with the surveillance videos also showed that Chandra was addicted to Subutex, which is a controlled substance used to treat pain as well as addiction to narcotic pain relievers.
“She would go back into the bedroom and mainline Subutex by injecting it into her leg,” Boyd said. “Over that last week before this (the shooting) happened, she injected herself 10 times, and all of that was on video. This part also shows up in the tv production.”
Boyd later found records that Chandra had actually purchased the Subutex legally, though she later became addicted.
“She bought it legally from a doctor in Johnson City by prescription,” Boyd said. “Bryan was on it also, but he eventually overcame it.”
Stay tuned to the Weekend edition of the Review to find out how Boyd was able to prove Chandra’s abuse and help reach the plea agreement.