Prosecutors alleged Tuesday that a Colorado Springs man fired “indiscriminately” into a crowd when he killed one man and wounded three at an illegal street race on the city’s east side.
But attorneys for Tony Ray Lawson, 49, argued that nothing was random about it, that he acted in self-defense as the victims attacked him and his son.
Competing accounts of the Dec. 14 clash led a judge to order Lawson held for trial on suspicion of first-degree murder, though the judge acknowledged it is far from a slam-dunk case.
“I found this to be a close decision,” 4th Judicial District Judge Eric Bentley said, noting that prosecutors had “very narrowly” supported the murder charge. That charge claims Lawson acted with “universal malice” and didn’t care whom he killed or injured.
In keeping with Bentley’s finding that there isn’t a “reasonable likelihood” of a conviction, the judge set a $75,000 bond for Lawson, who remains at the El Paso County jail.
The shooting occurred shortly before midnight as dozens of people gathered to watch drivers race along Geiger Court, an out-of-the-way, industrial strip long known to police as a haven for unsanctioned street racing.
At issue is whether Lawson was justified in resorting to deadly force when he fired a 9 mm pistol.
Lawson told police that four or five men rushed him shortly after he arrived in a Volkswagen Jetta GTI driven by his son. Among them were Brandon Coffin, 28, who was fatally shot in the chest at close range. Wounded were Coffin’s brother, Dylan Coffin, and two of their friends.
Prosecutor Margaret Vellar elicited testimony that Lawson and his son, Zachary Michael Lawson, 18, both brandished pistols, but none of the victims was armed.
The other wounded men said they approached the Volkswagen to confront Zachary Lawson about a dispute hours earlier, when the younger Lawson allegedly waved and pointed a pistol at them in a downtown parking garage.
Zachary Lawson and one of the victims had been trading insults about each other’s cars, police testified, describing a running dispute.
Police said Zachary Lawson admitted that he put a pistol on his dashboard in the parking garage, intending for it to be seen. He is charged with two counts of menacing, a felony, and remains free on $2,000 bond, court records show.
After the encounter at the garage, Zachary Lawson told police, he went home and asked his father to accompany him to the street races, knowing the men might show up. Zachary and Tony Lawson both say the father was there to watch over his son and defuse conflicts.
Tony Lawson said he was repeatedly pushed and punched within moments of his arrival, as other men were assaulting his son, forcing him to fire in self-defense.
A red mark on his face potentially supported his story of being punched, police said. But Tony Lawson also said people were threatening to kill him, which no other witness has corroborated.
“Shooting in a shoving and pushing match isn’t self-defense,” Vellar told the court.
Tony Lawson, who has no criminal history, is due to return to court April 17 to be arraigned. Should he post bond, he would be confined to his home except to go to work or church. He may not have access to guns or contact with victims and witnesses. He also would be given random urine and blood tests.