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Delaware Victims

Delaware murderer's death date set

By Tom Eldred, Staff writer

DOVER - Dover resident David J. Lawrie, who murdered his wife and three young children during a drug-induced rage in 1992, is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection April 23 at the Delaware Correctional Center in Smyrna.

The execution date and time - between midnight and 3 a.m. - was announced by Superior Court President Judge Henry duPont Ridgely during a brief court hearing Wednesday.

Defense attorney Gary F. Traynor said the execution date was set after appeals at the federal level failed. He said Lawrie's only remaining hope, save for a last-minute commutation from Gov. Thomas R. Carper, is from the U.S. Supreme Court.

''Our petition . . . in federal court was turned down,'' Mr. Traynor said. ''The Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision in January. Now we intend to appeal that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. We will also have to ask for a stay (on the execution date).''

Lawrie, 37, has been on Delaware's death row since July 1993. He was sentenced to death after a jury voted 9-3 that the aggravating circumstances of his crime far outweighed any mitigating factors.

He was convicted following the Aug. 6, 1992, deaths of his estranged wife, 25-year-old Michelle Lawrie, two of the couple's children and a neighbor's child.

Earlier execution dates were set and then passed as Lawrie's appeal process worked its way upwards through the state and federal court systems. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Lawrie's conviction and sentence in July 1996.

Testimony and court documents revealed Lawrie, who lived two blocks away, broke in the front door of his wife's home at 1425 Joshua Clayton Road in Rodney Village, just south of the Dover city limits. He said he had spent a sleepless night, high on cocaine, and was angry at her because she had filed for divorce.

The hour was early and Mrs. Lawrie was home. So were two of the couple's children - 2-year-old Tabatha and Fawn, 4. Mrs. Lawrie also was babysitting two other children, Charles Humbertson, 2, and Charles' sister, Lisa, who was 7.

A third Lawrie child, Marcus, 7, lived with the defendant at 201 David Hall Road in Rodney Village.

After kicking in the front door, Lawrie poured gasoline throughout the residence while Mrs. Lawrie and the children were still inside.

Then he confronted his wife with a knife and stabbed her. Following that, he set the home on fire.

Mrs. Lawrie, Tabatha, Fawn and Charles died in the inferno. Lisa ran to the front of the one-story structure and was pulled from the blaze by a passerby. She was treated at Kent General Hospital for minor injuries and released.

Lawrie left the fire scene and ran almost a mile to a stranger's house. Bloodied and dazed, he told the man he had just hurt his wife and kids and asked him to call police. He surrendered without incident.

Autopsy reports from the state Medical Examiner's Office reported Mrs. Lawrie died of stab wounds to her chest and smoke inhalation. The three children also died of smoke inhalation.

He was convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of the children and second-degree murder for killing his wife.

Lawrie begged the jury for mercy during the penalty phase of his trial. ''I have no excuses,'' the Delaware State News quoted him as saying. ''I must and will be punished, but I ask you, ladies and gentlemen; spare my life.''

A new federal law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 shortened the federal appeals process in capital murder cases.

If an appeal from Delaware to U.S. District Court fails, the only further bid is to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Although final appeals can be sent to the U.S. Supreme Court, there is no guarantee the justices will even consider hearing the motion, let alone render a decision.

Mr. Traynor said Lawrie has 90 days to submit an appeal to the high court, along with a motion for a stay of execution.

''If the Supreme Court says they won't consider it, the motion for a stay would be moot,'' Mr. Traynor said. ''The only other recourse would be to petition the Board of Pardons for a recommendation to the governor for a commutation to life in prison.''

Mr. Traynor acknowledged commutations by a governor are extremely rare.

The last person to be executed in Delaware was James B. Clark on May 22, 1996. Clark was convicted of murdering his adoptive parents in New Castle.

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