MARNA LYNN WEBER
At the time of Gerri’s murder, Marna was at a low point in her life. To put that in context, her life had been beset with abuse and hardship from an early age. Growing up, Marna endured a troubled family situation that included physical and sexual abuse, contributing to her developing a drinking problem and dropping out of school by age 13, getting pregnant at 16 and following a path of self-destructive behaviour. As the years wore on, Marna would have 2 more children, endure abusive relationships and find herself increasingly reliant on alcohol and other substances, fueling the emotional distress and mental disorders that made her so vulnerable to predators like Robert Lawson.
It was in this already vulnerable state that Marna arrived in Sedalia, MO from her home in Hampton, VA in 1998 at age 30. She had come to Missouri to try and regain custody of her 2 year old son, but she quickly fell in with Robert Lawson, who took advantage of her vulnerable mental state and exploited her for his own gain, up to and including scapegoating her for the murder of Gerri Jones.
I have come to rely more on the facts and what they reveal than my own memory… facts are facts and they do not lie, nor become distorted
~ Marna Weber
ROBERT WAYNE LAWSON
Robert Lawson was 43 years old at the time of Gerri’s death. He has a lengthy history with the court system and in 2000, he was subsiding as a low-level hustler who would sell drugs and pimp out women to pay the bills and feed his addiction. He was volatile and abusive and took advantage on the women he could influence and control. Several statements given by neighbors and other witnesses after the murder, depict Lawson as a violent and abusive man with a drug problem who forced his then girlfriend, Marna, and possibly his ex-girlfriend, Gerri, into prostitution by threatening them with violence.
As of this writing in January 2018, Rob Lawson is sitting in prison for burglary…his 3rd burglary conviction in Missouri. His record speaks for itself, he is a career criminal. His record includes multiple instances of resisting arrest, domestic violence, armed robbery as well as his confessed involvement in the Gerri Jones murder. In addition to his criminal record, there are other pieces of evidence such as witness statements, the opinions of Gerri’s family and friends, Marna’s testimony, a jailhouse confession, not to mention Rob’s infamous letter to Marna in which he outlines his motives for killing Gerri.
I swore somehow some way I would make her [Gerri] pay. Well when I got out I tracked her down. She was laid up with the cab driver shitty […] trailer. She thought I had come to kill her. I had thought about it and wanted to, but in jail I had plenty of time to think about what to do to pay her back. If I killed her I would of course be the number one prime suspect. So anyway I had a plan, instead of killing her I would just make her suffer the rest of her life.
~ Robert Lawson in a letter to Marna after the murder
Even though [Marna] has been charged with killing her daughter, Hoban (Geraldine Jones’s mother) associates the tragic turn of events to her daughter’s association with Lawson.
‘She just didn’t seem to be able to shake him,’ Hoban said of her daughter. ‘Every time she moved, he seemed to track her down and cause trouble….Rob has always been a problem, as far as threatening.’
Confusing the issue is the fact that Marna confessed to the crime after being interrogated under duress. The weeks, months and years leading up to the murder of Gerri Jones had not been kind to Marna (or Gerri) and prolonged and excessive alcohol and drug use, along with years of physical, mental and sexual abuse, at the hands of Robert Lawson and others, had taken its toll. Only 7 weeks prior to the murder of Gerri Jones, Marna was abducted one night after leaving a bar, held against her will and then beaten and raped. All of these factors and more left Marna in a severely diminished mental state, prompted an increase in alcohol and drug consumption, which further contributed to her confused state of mind and memory loss, all of which – critically – left her susceptible to police persuasion and interrogation techniques.
As a result, the police were able to coax Marna into confessing to the crime in order to avoid the death penalty, by convincing her that she had committed the crime and blacked it out. This is not a far fetched allegation or conspiracy theory. False confessions are well documented and all too common.
The National Registry of Exonerations has collected data on 1,810 exonerations in the United States since 1989 (as of June 7, 2016). They include 227 cases of innocent men and women who confessed, 13 percent of the total, all after receiving Miranda warnings (at least according to the police). Nearly three quarters of those false confessions were in homicide cases.
Sadly, the false confession is only one factor in this travesty of justice. Marna Weber was let down at every step of the way by the very system that was designed to protect her. She was denied proper psychiatric care and evaluation during her arrest and interrogation. Having been false implicated in the crime by someone who had motive to point the finger at Marna, the investigation centered almost solely on her until she was coerced into confessing despite having no recollection of the crime. She received woefully inadequate legal representation. She was scared and convinced to take a plea deal in order to avoid the death penalty, but as a result, she never had her day in court and key evidence never saw the light of day.
It took Marna some time to start thinking lucidly again. After 2 years of sobriety and treatment for her mental disorders (including psychotropic drugs), Marna started piecing together the events of that night as they had been told to her during the haze of her post-arrest interrogations and realizing they just didn’t add up. She has spent the last 15 years actively asserting her innocence and uncovering this scandalous miscarriage of justice. Not only has she been imprisoned for a crime she didn’t commit, but the real killer has never been held accountable. If for no one else’s sake, justice must be served for Geraldine’s family, who still don’t know the truth.
New evidence can only be considered in a habeas corpus hearing or appeal, however when Marna filed a petition for such a hearing, it was subsequently and summarily denied without due consideration. This seems like a clear failure of due process, especially for a woman who never did have her day in court, and especially in light of the myriad developments over the past 17 years.
There are several critically important pieces of the story that were never investigated or deserve a second look, such as:
- crime scene photos that directly contradict Marna’s confession and the account that the Columbia Police Department and the State of Missouri used to convict her….evidence that should have been disclosed by the prosecution, yet took Marna 9 long years (after conviction and incarceration) to even obtain.
- plausible jailhouse confession by Robert Lawson, containing details that only the murderer would know.
- a hand-written letter from Robert Lawson to Marna Weber detailing his motive for killing Gerri Jones and his 7 year plan to exact revenge on her
- the same CPD detectives who interrogated Marna and elicited her confession were proven to have coerced false testimony from witnesses in the high profile Ryan Ferguson case (the witnesses later recanted their testimony, which lead to the exoneration of Ryan Ferguson after 10 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit).
- Kevin Crane, the same prosecutor (now a Circuit Court Judge) who negotiated Marna’s plea deal, withheld exculpatory evidence in the Ryan Ferguson case, which is a Brady Violation. While this is not an indication of Crane’s guilt in this case, it does set a precedent and establishes a modus operandi which would suggest the potential for recurring malfeasance.