A 12-person jury Wednesday decided that Larry E. Lyons was guilty of all counts he faced – including first-degree murder. Lyons, 38, is scheduled to be sentenced at 9 a.m. Nov. 6.
It was difficult to gauge Lyons’ emotional state when the jury forewoman read the verdict since everyone in the makeshift courtroom was wearing a face mask due to COVID-19 concerns, but he was brought to tears earlier in the trial while listening to the 911 call he made shortly after killing girlfriend Brandy Dickson.
The seven-woman, five-man jury began deliberation just before 1 p.m., and rendered a verdict at about 3:15 p.m. The jury unanimously found Lyons, of Ellington Township, guilty of first-degree murder; assault with intent to murder; second-degree child abuse; domestic violence; carrying a dangerous weapon with unlawful intent; and third-degree child abuse.
Lyons had previously pleaded not guilty to all charges. The most severe count he faced – open murder in Dickson’s death – gave the jury the option to convict Lyons of any form of murder, from first-degree to manslaughter. The jury decided Lyons was guilty of first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
The assault with intent to murder and child abuse convictions are in connection with the severe injuries Lyons inflicted on the 10-month-old daughter he shared with Dickson.
The Tuscola County prosecution team of Chief Prosecutor Mark Reene and assistant prosecutor Eric Hinojosa provided evidence that Dickson was holding the baby when, on Dec. 15, an intoxicated Lyons attacked her with a knife. Dickson died a short time later. The infant received traumatic brain injuries, and though she survived, faces a long road to recovery.
The attack occurred at about 7 p.m., 10 days before Christmas at 2900 Gerou Road in Ellington Township.
In order to sufficiently adhere to COVID-19 guidelines, the trial was held at the Caro Knights of Columbus Hall, 903 Ryan Road, just east of Caro in Indianfields Township. The jury consisted of 16 people, 11 men and five women, but was trimmed down to 12 before deliberation began with four members selected randomly to act as alternates. Tuscola County Circuit Court Judge Amy Grace Gierhart presided over the trial. Lyons was defended by attorneys Jill Schmidt and Jessica Riskey.
The trial began with jury selection Sept. 29., and in earnest Sept. 30 with opening statements from the prosecution and defense. Over the course of the trial, jurors heard testimony from first responders, doctors, a DNA expert and more.
Dickson was stabbed multiple times, with most of the wounds entering her back and right shoulder. She also suffered defensive wounds to her arms. Multiple doctors – including Dr. Alex Weir, who treated the infant the night of the attack at Saginaw Covenant HealthCare and University of Michigan neurosurgeon Dr. Cormac O. Mahar, who oversaw emergency brain surgery on the infant – testified that the injuries to the child were among the worst they had ever seen. The infant’s most severe wound was a knife wound that penetrated her skull, went through her brain, and exited through another portion of the skull.
Throughout the trial, the prosecution had the burden of proving that Lyons’ actions were premeditated and that he intended to kill Dickson and the infant. The defense team didn’t deny that Lyons committed the crimes, but argued that the attack was a “sudden, impulsive act,” and therefore did not meet the criteria needed to qualify as murder in the first degree.
Attorneys gave closing arguments Wednesday morning.
Reene told the jury the case was built around the theme “The murderer, the mom and the miracle.”
“Three lives were irreparably altered,” Reese said during closing arguments. “Only one of those individuals involved (could) change the course of history that day. Only one had a chance to prevent this from happening. All he had to do was simply let the other two leave. All he had to do was show one ounce of humanity. All he had to do was show one ounce of human dignity.”
During earlier testimony, Dickson’s mother testified that Dickson called her moments before the attack. She told the court Dickson screamed “He’s got a knife.” She said she heard Lyons’ voice in the background, and then the phone went dead.
“All of this was avoidable. None of it… None of it had to happen,” Reene said during closing statements. “He wasn’t defending himself. He wasn’t defending (his daughter). He (was) angry at Brandy. The exact cause of anger, (only) he knows. He didn’t disclose it.”
Schmidt, meanwhile, painted the picture of a man who suddenly and without the act of premeditation, committed the violent acts and asked the jury to find Lyons guilty of a lesser murder charge.
“Larry is not guilty of first-degree murder, he is not guilty of attempted murder of (his daughter), and he’s not guilty of going armed with a dangerous weapon,” Schmidt said during closing arguments. “Larry Lyons has seen all this graphic evidence as you have. He’s lived this. He’s living the aftermath of this. The nightmare will never end. And you’ll hear some more argument that he’s a horrible, terrible person, he’s a coward, and why should anybody feel bad for him because of what he did?”
“Be that as it may, you’re here to judge the facts. The question to all of you is was there premeditation? Was there an intent to kill?”
Throughout the trial, Reese complimented the work of everyone involved in investigating the case. It was a point he echoed in his closing argument.
“This case literally shined a light, albeit an extraordinarily bright light, on the best and worst of humanity: The feverish and extraordinary work of first responders to save lives in contrast to the conduct of a murderer; a mom who sought to protect her (child) from the torrent of stab wounds that were being inflicted by the hand of the defendant; the absolute miracle survival of (the infant) of a stab wound through her skull and brain,” Reene said.
After the verdict was announced, Reene continued to rain praise on those involved with the case.
“We were blessed,” he told The Advertiser. “You don’t have better people all the way through, starting with the initial first response with (the Caro Fire Department) and paramedics, to (the Tuscola County Sheriff’s Office), to the doctors who were involved.”
In particular, Reene credited Hinojosa who was involved in possibly the biggest case of his career.
“He was extraordinarily prepared,” Reene said. “People who haven’t done it have no idea what it takes to put a homicide case together. It is extensive, and he did the work.”
Reese added that he wasn’t surprised at how quickly the jury announced its verdict.
“They truly paid attention all the way through, every step of the way,” Reene said of the jurors. “There was a lot of testimony. You start out with some things that are probably more dramatic, then you work through a lot of the science, then hear from the doctors. And they listened to everything. So I think when they went into the jury room they were prepared.”
This was just the second murder trial in Tuscola County since May 1998. In January 2019, Adam Balcer was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder in the killings of Peter Brodick Jr. and Wendy Brodick.
The death of Dickson was the first homicide in Tuscola County since April 2018, when Aaron Eby stabbed to death roommate Neil Ellis. Eby later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
John Schneider is editor of The Advertiser. He can be reached at email@example.com.