Lawlor guilty of first-degree murder

By Steve Smith
Posted 2/22/12

BRIGHTON — Like most reckless crimes, the murder of George Lindeboom produced evidence by the literal truckload.

    If Evan Lawlor attempted to deny that …

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Lawlor guilty of first-degree murder


BRIGHTON — Like most reckless crimes, the murder of George Lindeboom produced evidence by the literal truckload.

    If Evan Lawlor attempted to deny that Lindeboom died at his hands, prosecutors would have had little trouble proving beyond a reasonable doubt that they charged the right man.
    But Lawlor, 26, insisted that he strangled Lindeboom because he snapped, because a sexual encounter with the 67-year-old triggered traumatic memories of sexual abuse from Lawlor’s troubled childhood.
    For the prosecution, the issue wasn’t that Lawlor couldn’t let go of his past. It was the fact that Lawlor didn’t let go, holding a brutal chokehold on Lindeboom for three to five minutes after Lindeboom faded from consciousness.
    It took the jury less than two hours to reach the conclusion that Lawlor’s actions constituted intent after deliberation and convicted him of first-degree murder Friday in an Adams County courtroom.
    The conviction – along with guilty verdicts for robbery of an at-risk person, theft over $20,000, violation of the Pawnbrokers’ Act and tampering with physical evidence – means Lawlor will likely spend the rest of his life in prison. He will be sentenced March 12.
    Lawlor’s public defenders never argued the chronology of events or the outline of basic facts in the prosecution’s case. In contrast, public defender Rachel Lanzen focused her opening arguments, cross examination and closing arguments on the issues of mind set and behavior to cast doubt on the robbery motive the prosecution had put forward.
    Lawlor was the only witness called for the defense. In wrenching detail, Lawlor testified on the events that led to Lindeboom’s death last year and the parallels to experiences in the defendant’s childhood.

Defendant describes
first encounter with
    It was a cold January Saturday night when Lawlor walked out of a Brighton bar after a long evening attempting to drink away the regret and memories of his recent fight and breakup with his girlfriend.
    Lawlor wasn’t headed for his residence as he walked through the streets of Brighton. Like many stages in Lawlor’s difficult life, the young man had no place to call home. Since his breakup, Lawlor crashed at multiple locations with friends and coworkers, and his clothes and belongings were gathered and shuffled around in a few cardboard boxes.
    On this night, Lawlor intended to use a key to get into his place of employment and sleep inside the Brighton pizzeria before his shift the next day.
    But Lawlor caught the eye of an older stranger back at the bar. Lindeboom watched Lawlor drunkenly wrestle his way through several albums of karaoke songs earlier that night. When Lawlor went up to the bar for more beer, the two men exchanged cordial words as Lindeboom sat at his regular spot at the watering hole.
    About a block away from the bar, Lindeboom pulled up in his truck and asked Lawlor where he was headed and if he could use a ride. Lindeboom offered his own apartment as a place to crash – and a few more beers to sweeten the deal – and Lawlor accepted.
    What happened next at the apartment involved intimate details that Lawlor tried to conceal even more than Lindeboom’s death, which was still two days away.

Regret and
shame over ‘hookup’
    In the videotaped police interview of Lawlor, detectives scarcely introduced themselves before Lawlor confessed to killing Lindeboom.
    But Brighton police had to interrogate Lawlor for three more hours before he admitted to what happened back at Lindeboom’s apartment on the first night.
    “We had some beers, and I slept on his sofa … we didn’t have sex. I’m not down like that,” Lawlor originally told detectives.
    But the police knew otherwise. An exultant Lindeboom told friends before he died about having sex with a handsome young man he met and how the two were planning a second date.
    When Lawlor finally conceded to police that the sexual encounter happened, he said he lied because of shame.
    “I wanted to throw up,” Lawlor said of his feelings the next day. “I was disgusted. I’m not gay … and this guy was old enough to be my great-grandfather.”
    Lawlor told police that despite this disgust, he returned to that apartment two days later – this time to make a point of rejecting Lindeboom’s advances.
    When the two were on the sofa watching TV and drinking beers, Lindeboom rubbed Lawlor’s thigh.
    “I pushed his hand away, and said ‘I’m not down with that,’” Lawlor said, describing his actions as firm but not angry.

Second advance
leads to murder
    According to Lawlor, Lindeboom made a second advance at him 15 minutes later, rubbing his thigh again.
    This time, Lawlor said he became enraged that he had to rebuff Lindeboom a second time. After this refusal, Lindeboom stood and walked away from the sofa. But Lawlor said he sat and “stewed” for two minutes.
    In his confession – and in his testimony to the jury– Lawlor described his next actions. He stood quietly, removed his shirt and wrapped it around his right arm, crept behind Lindeboom, and grabbed him in a chokehold.
    Lawlor locked the hold with his left hand, dropped back on Lindeboom’s bed, bringing the older man down with him. Lawlor said he wrapped his legs around Lindeboom to prevent being kicked, and at times, swatted away Lindeboom’s arms as the man struggled.
    This struggle would have lasted for only eight to 13 seconds, according to Dr. Michael Arnall, who performed the autopsy on Lindeboom.
    After that, Lindeboom would have gone limp. Arnall said there still would have been time for Lawlor to release Lindeboom so that he could live.
    On the stand, Arnall said Lindeboom would have survived without permanent damage to his heart or brain if Lawlor had released him up to 100 seconds into the attack. But the strangulation would have to continue with constant pressure for three to five minutes to assure Lindeboom’s death, exactly the amount of time Lawlor confessed to holding the chokehold.
    After those minutes rolled by, Lawlor dropped Lindeboom’s lifeless body on the floor of his bedroom. Lawlor said he smoked a cigarette and tried to calm his mind.
    When he came back to himself and started forming a plan, Lawlor said he wanted to make it seem that he had never been inside Lindeboom’s apartment.
    It was Monday, Jan. 10, and Lindeboom’s body remained undiscovered until Wednesday of that week when an apartment maintenance worker entered to perform a well-person check.

describes robbery
    In addition to Arnall, Adams County District Attorney Michael Heinz called 26 witnesses to paint in meticulous detail the events that followed Lindeboom’s death.
    Lawlor removed sheets, blankets, towels and clothing from Lindeboom’s apartment that might have carried his DNA. Lawlor loaded up Lindeboom’s DVD collection and large screen TV into Lindeboom’s truck. After disposing of evidence in dumpsters and garbage cans around Thornton on the night of the murder, Lawlor spent the next few days trying to sell some of Lindeboom’s possessions.
    Lawlor later admitted that he didn’t expect law enforcement to be on his trail so quickly. And at first, Brighton police didn’t see any concrete signs of foul play in the unattended death of Lindeboom. But their suspicions were aroused by Lindeboom’s missing truck. Within 24 hours of the body’s discovery, a police patrol found the vehicle parked outside of Lawlor’s place of employment.
    Brighton police used surveillance video and phone records to pinpoint their suspect. On Friday of that week, an Adams County SWAT team swarmed the Brighton house where Lawlor was staying, the home of Ryker Schlitt, Lawlor’s friend and co-worker.
    Schlitt was arrested and charged with first-degree murder along with Lawlor. Investigators had suspicions the two worked together to rob Lindeboom. Brighton police ultimately released Schlitt, but the robbery motive remained more plausible to investigators than Lawlor’s explanation of snapping at Lindeboom’s sexual advances.
    But Lawlor had one last confession he hadn’t shared with police that came to light in court testimony – a story of abuse that his attorney hoped would put Lindeboom’s advances in the tragic context of childhood trauma.

‘A trusted,
older family friend’
    Before being handed over to foster families and group homes, Lawlor’s childhood was split between the houses of his divorced parents. During a year he spent at his mother’s home in Florida when he was 10 years old, Lawlor bonded with “a trusted, older family friend.” Lawlor described this man, Guy, as being like an uncle.
    “He took me fishing, to the movies, to Disney World and Busch Gardens,” Lawlor testified. “I trusted him, and the two of us hung out alone at his house many times.”
    But Lawlor said one day that relationship changed forever. Guy put in a new movie to watch, a homosexual pornographic movie. Lawlor said the movie set the stage for Guy to initiate fondling, mutual masturbation and oral sex.
    “It happened because I trusted him, and I went along with it. But I was also old enough to know something was wrong,” Lawlor told the jury. “But I never told anyone about it … and it happened after that every time I came over to his place.”
    No adults were alerted of this molestation, and Lawlor returned to Colorado a year later to live with father. Guy later committed suicide. Lawlor said in the suicide note, Guy confessed to committing crimes for which he could never be forgiven.
Prosecution challenges
molestation motive
    The defense asserted that this abuse left Lawlor with a lifetime of shame, self-blame and disgust that never went away.
    “I wasn’t always thinking about it,” Lawlor said. “But it was always there.”
    Lanzen said her client never said “no” to the abuse and that by allowing it to continue, Lawlor was haunted by his own inaction. When Lawlor refused Lindeboom’s advances, Lanzen called it a victory for the memory of that abused 10-year-old.
    “He did it! He finally said ‘No,’” Lanzen said. “And it was going to be OK.”
    But this triumph morphed into a tailspin of monstrous fury when Lindeboom rubbed his thigh a second time, calling into question whether the years of shame could ever be defeated. Lanzen argued that Lawlor was in a state incapable of deliberation in that moment. She told the jury second-degree murder was a better fit for Lawlor’s crime.
    The district attorney attacked this rationale on several fronts. Heinz said if Lawlor had picked up a gun or a knife and immediately attacked Lindeboom, second-degree murder might be plausible.
    “But this was a cold-blooded, calculated murder,” Heinz said citing Lawlor’s forethought in wrapping his arm in his shirt and waiting for Lindeboom to turn away before creeping up on him.
    Heinz said Lawlor’s own account of childhood abuse should have made him wary of returning to Lindeboom’s apartment.
    “With this alleged abuse, Mr. Lawlor said the abuse happened every time he went over there after the initial incident,” Heinz said. “After having sex with Lindeboom that first night, Lawlor would have known that the expectation would be there that second night.”
    Heinz also referred to Lawlor’s time dancing at a gay strip club, where the defendant testified that he had a three-strike policy with unwanted contact from patrons.
    “But he didn’t give Lindeboom three warnings,” Heinz said.
    Heinz argued that Lawlor could have left at any time, including after the first advance.
    “He could have walked out the door. He had other places to stay. He had a cell phone. He could have called someone to pick him up,” Heinz said.
    The prosecutions arguments swayed the jury on all counts, except for charge of felony murder. On that charge, the jury decided that Lawlor was not guilty of carrying out the murder in furtherance of a robbery.
    Lawlor will return to court March 12 for sentencing. As he was led out of court Friday, he seemed to anticipate the outcome.
    Emotional and in handcuffs, Lawlor shouted something unintelligible back to the courtroom, followed with, “and I still got life!”

Additional reporting by Kevin Denke


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