Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Eve Lawson, like many people, thought the criminal justice system was there to help people like her — honest and law-abiding. More than that, Eve has been described by those who know her best as quiet, shy — timid even.
Eve, born and raised in Waldron and now 41, had no criminal record, no record of violence. A childhood friend who now lives in Little Rock recalled Eve as "gentle and kind and a lover of animals, particularly horses. ... She was one of the last people you ever thought would kill someone."
But on May 20, 1998, Eve did kill someone. His name was Russell Rogers, and, for almost a month, he was Eve's boyfriend. She said she killed him for a very good reason: because he abducted her and was going to kill her.
She has never denied killing Rogers. The first thing she did after she shot him to death in the bedroom of his isolated Scott County shack was walk a half-mile to the nearest phone and ask the neighbors to call the sheriff, because "I've shot Russell."
Not even law enforcement authorities dispute that. They don't dispute that Rogers had abused her — they photographed her bruises — though they dispute the extent of the abuse. A lot of people don't even dispute that Rogers was a violent, disturbed person.
One of the jurors at Lawson's trial said he'd heard later that Rogers, 36 when he died, "was a pretty sorry guy." Rogers' ex-wife testified to years of violence at his hands. The lead investigator of the case, Alex Sylvester of the State Police, said Rogers and Lawson "both were victims."
As for Lawson, she just wants someone to get her story right. As she sees it, that's where her trouble with the criminal justice system began. No one listened. No one investigated her kidnapping and abuse. No one asked the right questions. Not law enforcement, not even her lawyers. The investigators "tried to tell me what happened."
"I was arguing with them because they were trying to tell me my story," Lawson said during an interview in prison. She was convicted last year of second-degree murder and sentenced to 20 years. "Still today, that story has yet to come out."
Lawson looks an interviewer directly in the face when she speaks. She has to. She is partially deaf. She has a hearing loss of about 50 percent, an audiologist's report says. Lawson contracted encephalitis when she was 19 and almost died. She spent months in the hospital, was paralyzed from the waist down for a time and had to relearn how to walk and talk. After leaving the hospital, she suffered a relapse, was hospitalized again and after that gradually started losing her hearing.
Because she was not born into the world of the deaf, or exposed to it as a child, she never learned sign language. Hearing aids helped for about 10 years but eventually became ineffective, amplifying ambient noise so greatly that she couldn't understand someone speaking to her.
Lawson learned to make do. She reads lips and if someone looks directly at her, has a tone of voice she can understand, speaks clearly and there are no other distractions in the room, she can comprehend an interviewer, half through her limited hearing, half through lip-reading. Even then, she sometimes misunderstands.
"Every now and then, I just kind of throw in what I think is being said," Lawson said. "And it gets me by just fine."
Or it did until she found herself charged with first-degree murder.
The encephalitis, coupled with the resulting hearing loss, left Lawson with mobility problems. She loses her balance easily, must hold tightly to stair rails when she climbs steps and finds it almost impossible to run.
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