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Benton residents holding fundraiser for Lawless DNA testing
BENTON, Mo. -- Residents are taking part in a weekend of fundraising efforts in support of the Scott County Sheriff's Department's investigation into the unsolved 1992 murder of Mischelle Lawless.
Steps for Justice, made up of a one-mile race, walk-a-thon and lunch, is scheduled for Saturday at the Charleston Baptist Association campgrounds off Highway 77 in Benton. A gospel singing will be Sunday. Proceeds will help the sheriff's department afford DNA testing for the investigation.
"We're just trying to do things to promote fitness in the area, and this race was something we had planned to do next spring, but we found out they needed money for DNA testing so we thought we would do it now," said Brooke Marriott, who has known the Lawless family for years.
Lawless, 19, was shot and killed in 1992 in Benton. The man originally convicted of the crime, Joshua Kezer, was exonerated in February in a finding of actual innocence.
Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter sent clothing worn by Lawless to a forensics program in the Netherlands for touch DNA testing, which could determine if the killer left behind skin cells on the fabric. The testing done so far will cost the department close to $40,000, he said.
"We're still testing," Walter said. "... Some of the test kits they use to do these tests are expensive, and there's only two places in the world that sell them."
The department has used the county's crime restitution funds and the sheriff's special fund for nonbudgeted accounts to pay for testing, Walter said.
Earlier this month, relatives of Lawless organized a bake sale/car wash in Benton which raised $2,500. Several other individuals have donated money to the cause, too, Walter said.
Funds raised will help pay for the DNA testing, and if any money is left over, it will be used to supplement some of the department's costs to continue the investigation.
"We've been all over the country on investigations," Walter said of the department. "On something like this, there are people who don't live here anymore and people in prisons we have to go visit so there are travel costs."
Marriott's mother, Debbie Nelson of Blodgett, is helping her daughter coordinate the Saturday event.
"We tried to think of what we could do (for the fundraiser), and we came up with the one-mile race, the walk-a-thon and games and things for kids to get families involved and come out to show a little bit of support," Nelson said.
The one-mile race starts at 11 a.m. with two divisions: open men and open women. The entry fee is $5, and preregistration is not necessary. Race-day registration will be from 10:30 to 10:50 a.m. Winners from each division will be awarded 50 percent of registration fees collected from his/her division.
The walk-a-thon will be from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
"Walk-a-thon-participants will make half-mile loops around a course on the campgrounds, and pledges are on an honor system. Participants are in charge of getting their money and turning it into the sheriff's department," Marriott said.
Marriott's 3-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son are even participating in the walk-a-thon.
"They just went up and down the road, asking neighbors if they wanted to pledge. Some of them pledged 25 cents a lap, but it all adds up," Marriott said.
A picnic with entertainment will be held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Hot dog lunch plates will be available for $2.
"We're having a sound system come out and fun activities for kids. We're going to have limbo contests and other entertainment," Marriott said.
On Sunday, Lawless' immediate family is conducting a Christian music and fellowship singing from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Charleston Baptist Association campgrounds. There will be a place to make donations to the sheriff's department.
Walter said he's been amazed by the community support -- not just from Scott County residents but from surrounding counties. And finding Lawless' murderer is something that's long overdue, the sheriff said.
"We need to resolve this," Walter said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to use the testing and get some forensics."
For more information about Saturday's fundraiser, contact Nelson at 573-471-2515. To learn about making donations in support of the Lawless investigation, see today's Scott County Commission story.