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Man Tied To Gun In Westerville Police Shootings Faces Prison

Jonathan Quilter
Pool Photo

Family members of two Westerville Police officers killed responding to a domestic violence call this year are asking for the toughest sentence for the man who provided the gun used in the shooting, saying he helped rob them of futures with their loved ones.

By contrast, friends and family members of defendant Gerald Lawson are asking for leniency, saying Lawson is remorseful and prison time would harm his own young family.

Lawson, 31, is scheduled for sentencing October 18 before Columbus federal judge Edmund Sargus. Prosecutors want a five-year prison term, saying Lawson knew that Quentin Smith, his lifelong friend, had a violent past that prohibited him from buying or owning a gun.

Defense attorneys want six months of house arrest, followed by three years of probation.

Westerville officers Anthony Morelli and Eric Joering were shot Feb. 11 responding to a 911 hang-up call at a townhome in the Columbus suburb where Smith lived.

A criminal complaint says Smith gave Lawson the money to buy the gun — a Glock semi-automatic — along with $100 for completing the transaction. Smith wasn't allowed to have weapons because of a previous burglary conviction.

The government says Lawson lied on a federal purchasing form when he said he wasn't buying the gun for someone else.

Smith was indicted in March on charges that carry the possibility of a death sentence. He has pleaded not guilty.

Lawson pleaded guilty in May to aiding and abetting a prohibited person in possession of a firearm.

Lawson "had every opportunity to succeed in life. Yet instead of using those advantages for the public good, he put them to use for other purposes, including selling drugs into the community and providing a deadly weapon to a known and dangerous felon," Noah Litton, an assistant U.S. attorney, said in a Tuesday filing.

In a Facebook post the morning after the shootings, Lawson stood by Smith "in a very public way even after learning about the Westerville Police Officers' shooting and deaths," Litton added.

The government's arguments include letters from the father, daughter and wife of Morelli, and the wife of Joering.

"While I understand that Mr. Lawson did not kill my husband, he made it possible for him to be killed," Jami Joering wrote to the judge. "I pray you sentence him fairly, keeping in mind, that he will still be able to have contact with his family after release."

Lawson has no criminal background, is remorseful, and never dreamed Smith would use the weapon on police, Lawson's attorney said in a court filing Tuesday.

"Mr. Lawson is eternally sorry and ashamed that he aided Mr. Smith in securing the firearm Smith used to kill the two officers," said George Chaney Jr., an assistant federal public defender.

Lawson's Facebook post was not a tribute to Smith, but a way of expressing skepticism he could have carried out the shootings, and the post was deleted as soon as he learned of Smith's role in the crime, Chaney said.

Chaney's arguments include letters from friends, godparents and Lawson's grandfather, seeking mercy.

"This is truly not a representation of Gerald's character nor values, and I know he is laden with the deepest regret for the officers and their loved ones," said Monica Adams, a friend of Lawson's parents for 35 years.