Shortly before a Wake County judge sentenced Edwin Christopher Lawing to life in prison for a 20-year-old homicide, the defendant leaned into the microphone on the defense attorney’s table.
A Wake County jury had just convicted Lawing of first-degree murder in the death of Lacoy McQueen, a Shaw University student with whom he had been romantically involved.
“I just wish to say, I did not do this sir,” Lawing told Judge Michael O’foghluda before being sentenced. “That’s all I wish to say.”
On the opposite end of the Wake County Superior Court room, friends and family of McQueen shook their heads in disbelief as Lawing, a former N.C. State University student, reiterated the stance he had taken for two decades.
“I thought, ‘Yes you did, yes you did, yes you did,’” McQueen’s college roommate, Stephanie Jeffries Jones, said after the sentencing hearing. “He did it.”
A Wake County jury, faced with the option of first- or second-degree murder, spent just over an hour and a half behind closed doors together before letting the judge know they had come to a unanimous decision.
In their note to O’foghluda, the jurors said they did not want to talk with media afterward. They left the courthouse without explaining how they arrived at their decision.
Lawing was charged with first-degree murder in the case twice. He was accused in 1997 after McQueen’s remains were found, but set free several months later when prosecutors decided they did not have enough evidence to proceed to trial.
In 2014, after taking a new look at the old evidence, prosecutors again charged Lawing with first-degree murder. The conviction on Monday brought a range of emotions for McQueen’s friends and family, a loyal group of supporters determined to seek justice, no matter how many decades it took.
“She was my best friend,” Jones said. “Her life mattered and her death, her murder, changed my whole life.”
Jones last saw McQueen on May 17, 1995, when the aspiring doctor headed out the door to tell Lawing that she had decided against terminating her pregnancy.
“This has haunted us … having to live with knowing that we were not there for her the moment she knew that she was in trouble,” Barbara Carter, a friend of McQueen’s, told the judge.
Prosecutors contend that Lawing strangled McQueen in his dorm room at N.C. State, then dumped her body in a remote wooded area off U.S. 1 in Kittrell, a Vance County crossroads town.
McQueen’s fragmented remains were found in 1997 by a hunter. Some of her clothing was in the area, as were her socks with bones from her feet still in them. Defense attorneys pointed out that other clothes were there, too, arguing that someone other than Lawing could have been responsible for McQueen’s death.
Defense attorneys argued that police early set their sights on Lawing as their main suspect and pursued him for two decades. The defense team pointed a finger at two men in a blue car, building on a narrative that Lawing provided to investigators 20 years ago after McQueen went missing.
Lawing, according to testimony from a former roommate, “was popular with the ladies” while a student at N.C. State. But he told investigators that McQueen was his girlfriend.
Initially, when questioned about McQueen’s disappearance, Lawing told investigators he had not seen her the day she went missing. Lawing later said he, indeed, had been with McQueen that day and the two had argued while in Pullen Park.
Lawing told investigators that McQueen stormed off after they discussed her pregnancy and the possibility of terminating it. Lawing added that he last saw her get into a blue car with two men he did not know — one in the driver’s seat and the other in the back seat.
Prosecutors highlighted how scant Lawing’s descriptions were, noting that he was unable to tell investigators from which direction the car came and what the men inside looked like, other than that he said they were black.
Public defender Celia Visser argued on Monday that prosecutors had not proven their case. She contended that the piece of physical evidence that prosecutors said linked Lawing to McQueen’s death — a rock fragment found in his shoe similar to stones at the site where her body was found — were tiny “pebbles” that did not cement claims of murder.
Visser argued that tests linking the rock fragments to the crime scene and Lawing were “junk science.” She also contended that the lead detective stalked Lawing “like a bloodhound.”
Wake County Assistant District Attorney Patrick Latour countered that Lawing was stalked because he was the man who should be convicted.
Latour argued that Lawing killed McQueen because he was not looking forward to becoming a father. The prosecutor contended that Lawing did not want a child to interfere with his social lifestyle.
“This is a crime of greed, a crime of selfishness,” Latour said.