Loudon woman receives maximum sentence in negligent homicide
A Loudon woman who avoided a second-degree murder charge in December received a maximum sentence on lesser charges Monday for her role in the 2011 overdose death of her brother in an Alcoa hotel room. Convicted in December of criminally negligent homicide, Kellie Geneva Abert, 45, received a two-year sentence in Blount County Circuit Court on that charge.
In addition, Abert also received a four-year sentence for violation of probation. The violation of probation related to an unrelated charge of bringing contraband into a penal facility in 2009, and it means that Abert will serve up to six years in prison, all told, as the sentences were ordered to be served consecutively.
Abert will eligible for parole after she has served 30 percent of her sentence, said Assistant District Attorney General Shari Tayloe.
The sentence provided some closure to a case that began in August 2011, when hotel employees at Hampton Inn on International Avenue in Alcoa received a call to the front desk from Abert, saying that her brother was unresponsive in their hotel room.
William “Billie” Ray Lawson, her brother, was later pronounced dead, due to the combined toxic effects of opiate pain killers, alcohol and an antidepressant.
Abert’s initial story to Alcoa Police was that the 39-year-old Lawson had been dealing with a number of personal issues, and that the two of them had gotten a room at the Hampton Inn to discuss his problems. She said that her brother was alive when she fell asleep around 2 a.m. Aug. 4, and that she awoke to find him motionless five hours later.
As the investigation continued, police noted holes and inconsistencies in Abert’s telling of events. At one point, she admitted to having given Lawson a single 30-mg morphine pill. Later, she ceded that it might have been two. And yet later, she said that Lawson might have snorted a portion of a crushed oxycodone pill, which she had also brought to the hotel room.
Police also questioned Abert’s timeline, as signs of rigor mortis indicated that Lawson may have been dead for longer than five hours.
Abert was initially charged with second-degree murder in the case, based on a relatively new stipulation in the state criminal code that defines second-degree murder as “a knowing killing of another,” or as “a killing of another that results from the unlawful distribution of any Schedule I or Schedule II drug, when the drug is the proximate cause of the death of the user.”
A medical examiner testified that while the amount of morphine in Lawson’s body was potentially lethal by itself, he adjudged that the actual cause of death was the toxic interplay of alcohol, morphine, oxycodone and the antidepressant duloxentine. Lawson had been prescribed the antidepressant. His blood alcohol content was 0.216 when the autopsy was performed.
In closing, the prosecutor argued that Abert acted recklessly in providing Lawson with dangerous narcotics in order to help deal with his problems. Public Defender Mack Garner countered that Lawson had kept a substance-abuse problem hidden from his family members, and that his death was the result of a tragic accident.
Garner also said the case was highly unusual, in that it was one of the first instances in which the new provisions in the state criminal code had been tried in a courtroom. “I would not have been surprised (by) whatever the jury did because it was a very difficult case,” he said in December.
In the end, jurors convicted Abert on the lesser charge of criminally negligent homicide on Dec. 5. A class E felony, the charge carries a minimum one-year prison sentence.