Thursday, March 29, 2001

Michael Lawrence, on trial for the murder of vacuum salesman
Melchor Tabag, listened yesterday as his mother, Carolyn,
answered questions on the stand.

Mother of
accused testifies on
salesman’s killing

She says her son told her
to mop up' after the fallen
vacuum cleaner salesman

By Debra Barayuga

Yesterday was bittersweet for the Tabag family of Kaneohe.

At 8 a.m. in U.S. District Court, family members watched proudly as sister Nena Tran was sworn in as a U.S. citizen. After the ceremony they walked across the street to Circuit Court to find answers to the disappearance and death of their brother, Melchor.

Almost two years to the day that Melchor Tabag disappeared, Michael Robert Lawrence, 26, of Waialua went on trial for second-degree murder.

Tabag, 41, was last seen alive March 27, 1999, at Lawrence's Kanoulu Street home demonstrating a Kirby vacuum cleaner.

Lawrence is accused of striking Tabag with a hammer, dismembering him and disposing of the body parts at an unidentified location. Tabag's body has not been recovered.

Tabag came from the Philippines to seek a better life for his parents and siblings, said Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Takata. Instead, Tabag "met with death, dismemberment and destruction at the hands of Michael Lawrence."

Deputy public defender William Jameson is raising the insanity defense and is expected to argue that Lawrence did not know what he was doing at the time and could not conform his conduct to the law.

Both of Lawrence's parents testified their son had been involved in two car accidents in high school and that he had once been struck in the head with a full bottle of beer while drinking with friends. They also said he had been using "ice" at one time but stopped about a year before.

In the months leading to March 1999, their once sociable and outgoing son began withdrawing, spending most of his time in his room, rejecting visitors or phone calls.

Elisita Chrisostomo, center, cried in court upon hearing
Carolyn Lawrence give details of her brother's death. To the
right is her daughter, Aileen. Just behind Chrisostomo
is Mary Anne Leal, her niece.

Carolyn Lawrence testified that her son's actions that day were so unlike him.

She had opened her kitchen door and saw her son standing over the body of Tabag, who was lying on his back on the floor of her washroom just outside her kitchen door.

His eyes were wide open, and there was a line of blood on his forehead, she said.

"I got scared because the guy just walked out of the house, and next time I see him, he's lying on the ground."

When she asked her son what happened, "He tripped and fell," he told her.

When her son raised a hammer in his right hand, she turned and fled into her bedroom and locked it, she said.

Lawrence said the son she knew "would have been bending down to help him."

She said her son later knocked on her door and told her something, but she could not make out what he said. "I was shaking. I was not in my right mind."

A short time later, she left her bedroom, and Lawrence calmly commanded her to "mop it up."

She said no but he ignored her, locked his bedroom door and left the house.

She opened her kitchen door and saw a pool of blood on the patio floor. The salesman was no longer there.

She said she had to rinse the towel twice to clean up the blood.

Frederick Lawrence testified that the man with the long hair sitting in court yesterday was not the son he used to know.

His son used to be affectionate and respectful. They were very close and went hunting and fishing together.

When his wife told him what happened, he believed her, he said, though "I didn't think my son could do something like that. That's not the Michael I know."

Asked to identify a knife found in the trunk of Tabag's car, which his son was driving when he was arrested, Frederick Lawrence broke down and covered his face in his hands.

"Yes, that's the knife I bought for my son," he managed to say as he wiped away tears.

During Lawrence's testimony, Elisita Crisostomo, Tabag's older sister, sobbed as she listened to the details of the last time her brother was seen alive.

Losing him was like losing a thumb, she said later.

While she feels for the defendant's mother, she is angry that Carolyn Lawrence did not do anything sooner.

"Because right there before her two eyes, she saw my brother need help, but she no even care."

Tabag's mother, Francisca, said she and her children miss their brother dearly and cannot hold back their sorrow.

She said her son was the "rock" of the family and did not want to marry because he wanted to take care of his parents and siblings.

The jury-waived trial in Circuit Judge Virginia Crandall's courtroom is expected to last nearly two weeks.

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