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Teen sentenced to 30 years in gang rape

WEST PALM BEACH — A teen who pleaded guilty and testified against co-defendants in the brutal gang rape of a woman and beating of her young son was sentenced Monday to 30 years in prison.

Avion Lawson, 17, had faced up to 11 life sentences, plus 50 years.

Three others in the case — Jakaris Taylor, 17, Nathan Walker, 18, and Tommy Poindexter, 20 — were sentenced in October to life in prison.

Lawson pleaded guilty in August and testified against them in the 2007 attack.

“Through your testimony, you sealed the case against your co-defendants,” Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Krista Marx told Lawson as she sentenced him to far less time in prison than he could have received.

Authorities say the four defendants, who were all teenagers at the time of the attack, barged into a then- 35-year-old woman’s apartment in a West Palm Beach public housing complex and raped her repeatedly, then beat her then-12-year-old son and forced her to perform oral sex on him.

Police say they then doused the two in chemicals to clean the crime scene and fled after discussing lighting the pair on fire.

Authorities say fingerprints and DNA found on clothing and condoms in the apartment identified the defendants. They were tried as adults.

Police say up to 10 masked, gun-toting teens participated in the attack, and the investigation continues.

“First of all, I want to say that I’m very sorry,” Lawson said quietly before sentencing.

He paused as he spoke, choking back tears, and acknowledged there was “no excuse” for the crimes, but asked for a chance to “turn my life around.”

Earlier in the hearing, defense witnesses testified that Lawson was a troubled teenager who grew up poor without a father, his only two brothers already in prison.

Dr. James Barnard, a psychologist who examined Lawson for the defense, testified he was “borderline disabled” because of a low IQ.

“He’s likely to be quickly involved and succumb to deviant peer pressure,” Barnard said.

Lawson’s mother, Cathy, sobbed as she testified, pleading with the judge for leniency.

“He’s a caring child,” she said.

Prosecutor Terri Skiles said authorities were supporting the victim’s desire to see Lawson sentenced to 50 years in prison.

“She does believe that Mr. Lawson deserves something less than the other three,” Skiles told the judge.

Lawson’s attorney, Bert Winkler, said his client was a “relatively minor participant” in the crimes and asked the judge to sentence him to just 10 years in prison.

“He’s certainly shown remorse” Winkler said, noting that Lawson was just a 14-year-old seventh-grader at the time who was far too young to “make sound judgments.”

Judge Marx said she took into account Lawson’s troubled childhood.

“I do recognize that you weren’t given a chance, that you were a lost boy from the minute you were brought into this world,” she said.

Marx also noted “there must be a benefit” for Lawson testifying against his friends, that, in prison, he will be “labeled a rat ... a snitch” and his chances of survival were diminished.

“This is a horrific crime beyond words and my sentence must be harsh because of that,” Marx told him. “I hope, Mr. Lawson, that you find a way in prison to turn it around.”

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