The government must turn over forensic reports on a gun believed to be the murder weapon in a 19-year-old case that sent a Modesto man to death row, along with recent tests done on a gun a defense attorney unearthed in a field three months ago, a judge said Tuesday.
In a written ruling, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Timothy W. Salter said the California attorney general's office must turn over the documentation to death row inmate Dennis Lawley's attorney by March 21. A prosecutor had argued against the release, saying the information was irrelevant.
The court order is important because Lawley's attorney thinks the .357-caliber Smith & Wesson he dug up Dec. 13 in a field south of Robertson Road could be the weapon that killed parolee Kenny Stewart on Super Bowl Sunday in 1989.
Twelve jurors convicted Lawley of hiring two men to kill Stewart. A paranoid schizophrenic, Lawley represented himself at trial, arguing that he wanted to emulate "the beast" in the New Testament Book of Revelation so he could protect society from homosexuals and warriors from outer space.
Lawley's case was reopened because one of his alleged accomplices, convicted murderer Brian Seabourn, now says he killed Stewart on his own because Stewart crossed the Aryan Brotherhood, a powerful prison gang.
Seabourn claims he buried the murder weapon, the Smith & Wesson, in a field in west Modesto. Defense attorney Scott Kauffman of San Francisco used $7,500 from the California Supreme Court to search the field for metal, unearthing a gun that was covered in rust and manufactured in 1974.
The authorities contend Stewart was shot with a .357-caliber Ruger found in Lawley's south Modesto cabin. Kauffman hopes a comparison of the guns proves them wrong. Lawley, 64, is in San Quentin State Prison.
Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2338.