Alleged serial predator arrested in Athens

By Sarah Hawley -

ATHENS — An Athens man alleged to have sexually assaulted or attempted to sexually assault three women in three separate incidents over the past 11 years pleaded innocent on Tuesday to charges in an 11-count indictment in Athens County.

Shawn J. Lawson Jr., 26, was arrested on Monday evening at the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office after being called to the office for a diversion appointment. He was placed on diversion in 2016 for an unrelated OVI case in which he had a firearm in the vehicle while being under the influence.

“In January of 2016, a DNA hit from the Ohio Bureau of Investigation linked these three cases. After Lawson, Jr. was accused of a sexual assault in Lancaster, Ohio, his DNA was obtained which led to him being linked to the three Athens County cases. Lawson, Jr. was in the Athens County Empowerment Program for a charge of Improperly Handling Firearms in a Motor Vehicle, a felony of the fifth degree. Because Lawson, Jr. failed to report his law enforcement contact with the Lancaster authorities, he was in violation of the terms of the A.C.E. Diversion program and was called in to speak with a diversion officer and submit to a random drug screen. At that time, Lawson, Jr. was arrested on the warrant for his indictment on these most recent charges,” stated Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn in a news release.

On Monday, Lawson was indicted by an Athens County Grand Jury on three counts of kidnapping, first-degree felonies; three counts of felonious assault, second-degree felonies; attempted rape, a second-degree felony; two counts of rape, first-degree felonies; and two counts of aggravated burglary, first-degree felonies.

The incidents which led to the indictment against Lawson were alleged to have taken place in the uptown Athens area on or about June 11, 2006, June 20, 2015 and Dec. 12, 2015. In each of the incidents, the victim was reportedly walking alone in the overnight hours from the uptown area.

In a news conference on Tuesday afternoon which was live streamed by the City of Athens and numerous other outlets, Blackburn, Athens Chief of Police Tom Pyle, APD Lt. Jeff McCall and Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine addressed the investigation which led to the arrest of Lawson on Monday.

Blackburn stated that his office received notification from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation at 8 a.m. on Monday with Lawson being an alleged DNA match to the three cases linked to the same alleged predator in the city of Athens, as well as the recent Lancaster case. Authorities in Fairfield County would have also been notified of the results on Monday, although it is unknown if charges have been filed at this time.

Lawson’s DNA was initially collected in Fairfield County in connection with that investigation, with a DNA sample taken from Lawson on Monday evening at Southeast Ohio Regional Jail by order of a search warrant according to McCall.

Blackburn and Pyle credited McCall’s collection of touch DNA from the June 2015 incident as being one of the key investigative tools in the case.

DeWine said there were three things that were different about this case. First, the collection of touch DNA by McCall; secondly, the testing of old rape kits by the Attorney General’s office allowed for the testing of the 2006 kit which otherwise had not been tested; and the use of modern science in the production of a composite photo and profile of the alleged predator last year through a DNA profile.

Blackburn stated that he had personally spoken to two of the victims of the case, while McCall and others spoke with a victim who is now in Pennsylvania to let them know of the charges and the arrest. He stated that the victims were relieved to have the suspect in custody after what had been a long process.

Blackburn and DeWine spoke of the initiative by DeWine and his office to complete the testing of rape kits dating back 20 years, which is the statute of limitations in those cases. Approximately 13,000 kits have been tested with 38 percent being a match to either a known suspect or another kit with the same unknown suspect which was the case with the three Athens County cases.

What you see is the result of very good police work over a period of time, stated DeWine in the news conference.

Blackburn and DeWine stated that if there are others who may have been a victim in this case or any one with additional information should contact investigators.

Since authorities released information on the linked cases in January 2016, more than 150 tips have come in to investigators, with McCall stating approximately 30 DNA samples had been taken though the investigation.

Lawson remains held in Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail on a $3 million bond at the request of Blackburn as he awaits a pretrial hearing on June 5 and a trial date of July 10.

Blackburn stated that in this, as well as any other case, the defendant is “innocent until proven guilty” and that he will have his day in court.

Additional search warrants have been conducted since Lawson’s arrest, with Blackburn stating that additional charges are possible, although he did not state the nature of those charges. A termination from diversion notice has been filed in the previous case.

This case was investigated by the Athens Police Department, the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office and the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification.

By Sarah Hawley