Defense says death of woman accidental

Trial begins for man accused of murdering Talkeetna resident

Posted: Tuesday, July 31, 2007

ANCHORAGE -The defense attorney for the man accused of murdering a young Talkeetna woman four years ago dropped a bombshell during opening statements Monday.

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Michael Lawson killed Bethany Correira, he said.

However, the death was an accident, said defense attorney Mike Moberly.

"So this isn't quite the whodunit that we all thought it would be," Moberly said.

Lawson, 49, faces eight felony counts including murder, kidnapping, arson and evidence tampering in the May 3, 2003, slaying of Correira, 21, who had moved to Anchorage to attend college just days before she died.

State prosecutors say Lawson deliberately murdered Correira after she unwittingly walked in on a drug deal at the apartment complex where they both worked.

Moberly said the prosecution's evidence, while accurate, is circumstantial and cannot prove that Lawson intentionally killed Correira.

"When it really comes down to it, it's a very interesting story, but it doesn't really tell us a lot," Moberly said. "The physical evidence is very attenuated."

More than 30 people, including Correira's tearful friends and family, watched as prosecutor Sharon Marshall laid the groundwork for the state's case.

Marshall said Lawson deliberately killed Correira, then called his brother, Robert Lawson, to help ditch the body and burn the apartment where the murder took place to destroy evidence.

Robert Lawson committed suicide in March 2006. The state will use conversations recorded between the brothers in its case.

"Michael once again admitted that he shot Bethany, but he says it's an accident," Marshall said. "It was not an accident."

After Robert Lawson was arrested on fraud charges, he agreed to assist in the murder investigation by recording conversations with his brother. According to Marshall, jurors will hear Michael Lawson tells his brother that he would be the state's star witness and that he "showed them what the cat buried in the kitty litter."

Correira was first reported missing May 4, 2003, when her mother showed up to take her shopping at garage sales.

A massive search ensued, with Anchorage police along with friends and family posting fliers and scouring the area from Girdwood to Palmer. A $40,000 reward was offered, but after about a month, the intensive search abated.

Robert Lawson led police to Correira's grave in a gravel pit near Talkeetna roughly 98 road miles north of Anchorage a year later.

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