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Cassidy Jenson

Baltimore Sun

January 22, 2024

Ten days after his 17th birthday, Andre Lawson and his friends tried to rob a Burger King in Hunt Valley. The teens stabbed and beat 21-year-old manager James Stambaugh Jr. to death two days before Christmas Day.

More than two decades after Lawson was sentenced to life without parole in the Dec. 23, 2000, killing, the 40-year-old is again asking a Baltimore County judge to give him a second chance, this time under the Juvenile Restoration Act.

“It was a horrible mistake,” Lawson told Circuit Court Judge Garret P. Glennon Jr. during a 4-hour hearing Monday. “I’m not the same person I was 23 years ago. I believe I can show in my actions and deeds that I’m not the same person.”

Lawson was one of four teens convicted in the robbery and killing. Prosecutors said he bound Stambaugh’s hands and face with duct tape, stabbed him in the shoulder and beat him with heavy metal objects.

Courtney Bryant, 18 at the time of the murder and identified as the group’s ringleader, received a death sentence that was later reduced to life without parole.

Lawson’s defense team has argued previously that his sentence should be shortened. In 2016, after U.S. Supreme Court decisions finding mandatory juvenile life without parole sentences were unconstitutional, his hearing was the first in a statewide effort by the Maryland public defender’s office to challenge long sentences given to young people.

But Judge Robert E. Cahill Jr. upheld Lawson’s sentence, writing that the original sentence from Judge Alexander Wright was “fair, just and constitutional.”

Monday’s hearing was the first time attorneys for Lawson have argued for his release since state legislators passed the Juvenile Restoration Act in 2021, which allows people imprisoned for at least 20 years for crimes committed when they were minors to file a motion to reduce their sentences. Glennon will issue his ruling in a written court order, as required by the statute.

Baltimore County prosecutors opposed the reconsideration of Lawson’s sentence, criticizing a reentry plan and reports from defense experts that found Lawson was unlikely to engage in future violence.

“When you look at the facts of this case, they are horrific,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Adam Lippe, calling the death “a torture murder.”

Megan Andre Lawson, sentenced to life without parole as a 17-year-old for his role in a the killing of Burger King manager in Hunt Valley, is asking a Baltimore County judge to reduce his sentence under the Juvenile Restoration Act., a licensed social worker who interviewed Lawson multiple times, testified that his life was transformed when he was 12 after his father, a mechanic and “high-functioning heroin addict,” died from a terminal illness.

His mother was left to run the family’s gas station alone, and an “inconsolable” Lawson often was left unsupervised, Leschak said.

Michael Guilbault, a forensic psychologist who prepared a risk assessment of Lawson, said Lawson used and sold drugs as a teen as he spent time with men who fulfilled mentorship roles for him. Before his arrest, he only had completed the 8th grade and missed significant schooling as a child during hospital visits for his chronic asthma.

Lawson was married in 2019 to a family friend turned prison penpal, Romaine Lawson. The two attended elementary school together and reconnected when she began writing to him after his arrest in 2001, she told Glennon on Monday. Now they communicate daily, and Andre Lawson said he hopes to start a family with her and one day run his own business.

“She’s like my rock,” he said of his wife. “She’s like my everything.”

Judith Jones, a panel attorney for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, said Lawson has worked while incarcerated and participated in self-help and educational programs, including an 18-month religious distance learning course to deepen his Christian faith.

“A wake-up light has gone on,” Jones said, as her client has aged. “He’d like to make amends.”

Jones said the assaults and rule violations in Lawson’s prison records were consistent with other juvenile lifers, who tend to struggle during their first years of incarceration before their brains finish developing and they mature in their 30s and 40s. Brain science has shown adolescents are less skilled at making decisions and evaluating consequences, particularly when it means going against a group of their peers, Jones said.

However, prosecutors pointed to more recent infractions, which Lawson acknowledged Monday, including a series of fake program certificates Lawson created prior to a post-conviction hearing and a 2017 assault in which he was accused of hitting an inmate in the head.

“I learned from that situation in a major way,” Lawson said of the 2017 incident, adding that he has since learned how to de-escalate conflict and communicate more effectively.

Assistant State’s Attorney Kelsie Potts asked psychologist Guilbault why his most recent risk assessment that found Lawson had a low risk of committing violence against others, after his previous evaluation had indicated a “moderate” risk. Guilbault attributed the change in part to an improved reentry plan with the Baltimore-based TIME Organization, an outpatient mental health treatment provider.

Shareece Kess, the TIME Organization’s chief of staff, said Lawson has been accepted into her organization’s reentry program, which has assisted a total of 19 people released under the Juvenile Restoration Act and provides temporary housing. None of those clients been arrested for crimes since their release, Kess said, although a few have failed drug tests.

None of Stambaugh’s family were present at Monday’s hearing. Lippe said the victim’s father, James Stambaugh Sr., had moved out of Maryland and did not return phone calls.

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