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'Please, Come Forward'

Mother offers $100K reward in quest to find justice for slain son

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I am Charmaine Lawson, mother of David Josiah Lawson, who was known by many as DJ. If this is your first time hearing my story, here is a brief summary of the facts leading to my son's murder and how you can possibly help.

DJ was a sophomore attending Humboldt State University studying criminal law. On April 15, 2017, DJ attended a birthday party in Arcata. Lila Ortega who was also in attendance, misplaced her cell phone and began accusing several people of color of stealing it. Ortega then called her boyfriend Kyle Zoellner to come to the party to assist her.

When Zoellner arrived, Ortega demanded that DJ and his friends empty their pockets looking for the phone. When they said no, an altercation ensued and Nia Wilkins and Angelica McFarland sprayed them with a bear spray chemical agent and a fight broke out involving Zoellner and DJ. When a witness separated the two of them, DJ was covered with blood and had been stabbed several times. One of those stab wounds hit DJ in the heart and as he lay dying, Ortega was heard saying, "I hope that nigger dies!" DJ later died at Mad River Community Hospital.

Ortega would later find her phone after leaving the party.

When police arrived, Zoellner was questioned and arrested for the murder of my son. Police recovered the knife that killed my son at the scene and a DNA test later revealed that the only identifiable blood on the knife was that of Zoellner and DJ.

At Zoellner's preliminary hearing, the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office, whose job it is to represent the victim, appeared to intentionally present a case on behalf of the defense. This led to the release of the suspect Kyle Zoellner. A criminal grand jury was later convened to hear the case and, again, the district attorney's office presented a case of self-defense for the suspect.

According to two members of the grand jury who reached out to me personally, they said 13 of the jurors had voted to indict Zoellner for murder, but former Deputy District Attorney Joel Buckingham led the jury to return with a decision of self-defense even though Zoellner himself never claimed self-defense.

District Attorney Maggie Fleming has stated that she will not present this case again without an eyewitness. Therefore, I am pleading with the community to come forward with video of the fight and my son's stabbing that has been reported to exist, and for any eyewitnesses to the stabbing to contact me, Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn or your local police department.

If you know anything or anyone that can help this case, please come forward. I want to seek justice for my son. For the person who comes forward within the next 30 days and provides the evidence that leads to the arrest and conviction of my son's murderer, I will award you $100,000.

DJ was my first born son, he was loved by his family and community. Not a day goes by that he is not missed. He deserves justice. DJ had a giving and loving heart, and in his memory we will be hosting the fourth annual coat drive at the Arcata Plaza on Saturday, April 17, 2021, from 2 to 5 p.m. I hope and pray to see you all there.

With love, Charmaine.

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