Lawlor v. Zook, No. 17-6 (4th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Lawlor worked at a Fairfax County apartment complex and had access to keys to each apartment. On September 24, 2008, Lawlor consumed alcohol and a large amount of crack cocaine and sexually assaulted, bludgeoned, and killed a tenant in that complex, Genevieve Orange. A Virginia state court sentenced Lawlor to death; the sentencing jury found that there was a probability Lawlor “would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing serious threat to society,” Va. Code 19.2–264.4.C. Lawlor exhausted state court direct appeal and post-conviction remedies then sought review of his death sentence under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The district court dismissed his petition. The Fourth Circuit reversed. The state court excluded specialized and relevant testimony of a qualified witness who would have explained that Lawlor “represents a very low risk for committing acts of violence while incarcerated,” where the jury’s only choices were life in prison without parole or death. That ruling was an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent that “evidence that the defendant would not pose a danger if spared (but incarcerated) must be considered potentially mitigating,” and “such evidence may not be excluded from the sentencer’s consideration.” The error had a substantial and injurious effect.