Candy Lawson trial focuses on tiny closet, brother's death in Kentucky
(9/14/2017) - Jurors in the Candy Lawson trial got a feel for exactly how small the closet was where the Corunna woman's sister was locked up for seven years.
They also heard from authorities in Kentucky, where Lawson's brother died in her care under similar circumstances years ago.
Lawson is facing charges of unlawful imprisonment, abuse and embezzlement related to Dianna's case.
Police found Lawson's special needs sister Dianna locked in a closet in Lawson's home in July 2015. Dianna weighed only 74 pounds at the time.
Lawson's legal team has argued over the past couple days that the closet was sufficient for Dianna while Lawson's home was undergoing some construction work.
A Michigan State Police detective measured the closet six months later. A wall had been removed, but he said he was able to determine the exact size of the space using a gap in the ceiling.
"What we did find was in the ceiling, there was a gap in the drywall, indicating that there had previously been a wall in that location," said Michigan State Police Det. Sgt. Mark Pendergraff. "So using that gap in the drywall in the ceiling, which ran in an L-shape, I took measurements from that gap for a width of that prior room."
He showed the jury a mockup of the closet in the courtroom using a measured posterboard and buckets from Home Depot. The closet measured 7 feet by 4-foot-2 by 8 feet. One five-gallon bucket was found half full of human waste in the closet with Dianna the night police freed her.
Pedergraff also testified about the embezzlement charge Lawson is facing.
He accessed bank records dating back to when Lawson moved to Michigan in May 2013. From then until Dianna was found in July 2015, Lawson received nearly $19,000 in government benefits.
However, Pendergraff said there were no reports filed during those year accounting for how that money was spent. The day Dianna was found, the bank account receiving the government benefits had a balance of only $4.58.
"The pattern that I found was within one to two days after the amount was deposited into the account, there are ATM withdrawals for cash almost in the amount of what was deposited," he said.
Jurors also heard allegations from Kentucky authorities about an adoptive brother who died there years before Dianna was found nearly starved to death.
Lawson took her adoptive siblings Dianna and Justin Churchill into her care when her mother died 10 years ago. Neither can speak or hear and both are considered mentally challenged.
Justin Churchill died in 2009 under Lawson's care from similar circumstances. Kentucky police officers testified that he was just 60 pounds when he died.
Prosecutors showed disturbing photos of Justin and drew similarities to Dianna's condition when she was found in Shiawassee County. Police from Kentucky said Justin was also little more than skin and bones.
Kentucky police talked about the interviews they had with Lawson after Churchill's death.
"She stated that he had been vomiting and he had been hiding some food in his room. And, that she had tried to get -- I think it was Pepto Bismol, Immodium and stuff like that for him," said Alfred Kevin Calhoon of the Kentucky State Police.
Lawson claimed her adoptive brother was suffering from the flu when he died and that's why his weight withered to only 60 pounds. She told detectives Justin was allowed to eat whatever he wanted whenever he felt like eating.
However, his death certificate listed malnourishment as a contributing factor to his death.
Lawson has not been charged for Justin's death, but Kentucky State Police troopers said they couldn't rule out charges in that state later.
Lawson's attorneys fought against releasing information about Justin's death to the jury. But prosecutors won a ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court before the trial allowing the evidence.
"This shows her state of mind, her mentality, how her thinking process and how she treated these disabled siblings," said Shiawassee County Prosecutor Dean Finnegan.
Candy Lawson's attorney, Amy Husted, says she is innocent.
"This has been very hard on her because she truly loved Dianna and Justin and she feels that she was taking care of them, doing the best that she could to take care of them," Husted said.