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OKC Man Faces Trial in Rape, Murder of Toddler


An Oklahoma City man accused of raping and killing his girlfriend's daughter is ordered to stand trial. Oklahoma County Special Judge Fred Doak ruled after a preliminary hearing that evidence is sufficient to send Justin Williams Lawson, 23, to trial on charges of first degree murder and rape by instrumentation.

Reports say the girl's mother left her daughter in the care of Lawson, a longtime friend whom she had recently started dating, as she attended class. Around 8:00 that morning, Keah Cudjo got a call from Lawson saying that 2-year-old Kaleah had urinated on herself and was shaking. Cudjo says she wanted to come home to check on the girl, but that Lawson assured her the girl was okay. 

A few hours later, she says, Lawson called her again, this time to say that the child was getting worse and had started vomiting. Cudjo says she rushed home to find her daughter foaming at the mouth and bleeding, and only after the mother arrived home did anyone call 9-1-1.

The child was rushed to the hospital, where doctors discovered injuries consistent with rape. She was pronounced dead at 12:45 p.m.

Cudjo testified that when she called Lawson to say that her child had been raped, Lawson immediately became concerned about DNA evidence. Investigators say that when they came to the home, most rooms were filthy, with the only exception being a bedroom Lawson had been in with the toddler. That room had been freshly and thoroughly cleaned. The child's bed sheets had been stripped, and there was wet laundry in the washing machine.

The defendant's attorney says that his client maintains his innocence. Prosecutors point out that Lawson fled the home that morning after the child was taken to the hospital, but the defense says Lawson fled out of fear of being apprehended for outstanding warrants out of Kansas, not out of fear of being charged with rape.

In Oklahoma, first degree rape is punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison, and first degree murder is punishable by life in prison or life without parole. Under certain specified circumstances, first degree murder is punishable by death. In January 2015, the state executed Charles Warner, a death row inmate convicted of fatally raping a friend's 11-month-old daughter in 1997.

Prosecutors have not said whether they will seek the death penalty against Lawson, but shortly after the child's death, her family stated that they wanted the man to be executed as justice for Kaleah.

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