It’s been five years since David Josiah “DJ” Lawson, a then Humboldt State student, was stabbed to death at an off-campus party in 2017. On Friday, April 15 at 4 p.m. there will be a rally for Lawson at the Eureka Courthouse. Community members and Cal Poly Humboldt students are invited to join.
“It’s just frustrating that five years later this is such an open and shut case and my family is still suffering,” said Charmaine Lawson, DJ’s mother. “My son cannot rest because you have a DA’s office that is incompetant and you have a police department that claims that they’re doing stuff that, I mean, if they were doing anything, I would see it. You would see it. But, I’m not seeing anything that they’re doing.”
DJ’s journey for justice has gone through many ups and downs, but his mother has yet to give up. Her current goals include having the case prosecuted outside of Humboldt County by Attorney General Rob Bonta. She shares that she has been in contact with his office and is trying to schedule a meeting.
When asked what it would take to get an indictment in this case, Lawson’s mother says Arcata police have told her they are waiting for more witnesses to come forward. El Leñador contacted the Arcata Police Department and no comment was received.
History of the case
Lawson was a 19 year old Humboldt State student studying criminology and had hopes of getting into politics. On the night of April 15, 2017 at an off-campus party on Spear Avenue in Arcata, California, Lawson’s life was cut short. According to statements from eyewitnesses that night, Lawson and a man named Kyle Zoellner were in an altercation that ended in the deadly stabbing of Lawson. A knife was later found at the crime scene.
The investigation has been described as “botched” by Lawson’s mother. The case was dismissed in 2017 at a preliminary hearing because of a lack of evidence and contradictory statements from witnesses. Two years later it was brought to the Humboldt County Criminal Grand Jury. On Feb. 28 2019, Zoellner was found not guilty because of a lack of evidence.
Thadeus Greenson, a reporter for the North Coast Journal, interviewed former Arcata Police Department Interim police chief Rick Ehle in 2019. According to Greenson, during his interview, Ehle told him that there was DNA and fingerprint evidence that could now be coupled with the suspect’s “motive, opportunity and means” to commit the crime.
Despite over 30 witnesses coming forward, the investigation remains open. District Attorney Maggie Fleming has decided not to charge anyone after the Humboldt Criminal Grand Jury decided there wasn’t enough evidence to indict Zoellner. Fleming will not seek a third term as District Attorney in the 2022 election.
Lawson’s mother shares that her experience with the District Attorney Maggie Fleming’s office has not been easy and wants the case prosecuted outside of Humboldt County. This is partly due to there only being one more chance to retry the case in court and get an indictment. Lawson’s mother wants it done right.
Hope for the future
Lawson’s mother remains hopeful that justice will be served. She continues to keep her son’s memory alive through organizations like Justice for Josiah and Justice in Humboldt. Motivated by the support she’s received, Lawson and her team continue to contact the Attorney General’s office every few weeks to schedule a meeting and hopefully retry the case under a new investigative team.
She is also in the process of getting a billboard in Humboldt County. Lawson’s mother says getting the billboard is harder than she anticipated. The billboard was meant to advertise three points: the website Justice In Humboldt, the unjust and unresolved death of HSU student David Josiah Lawson and the need for a Humboldt DA who fairly represents all people, according to JIH.
“I’ve been catching hell over this billboard, when I tell you catching hell, I mean catching hell,” Lawson’s mother said.
She shares that previous owners of the billboard space tried censoring what goes on the billboard and asked for personal information about donors. Lawson’s mother didn’t feel comfortable sharing that information and later decided to return donations to those who wanted them back. However, a billboard is still in the works and Lawson’s mother is currently looking for a land owner along the 101 freeway who would be willing to rent a parcel of land.