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Ex-con accused of killing teacher pleads not guilty

24-year-old charged with murder, burglary, car theft in teacher's death

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of Adam Lawson Jr.
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of Adam Lawson Jr.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A 24-year-old ex-convict charged in the home invasion beating death of a beloved elementary school music teacher pleaded not guilty Tuesday to all of his charges.

Adam Lawson Jr. is charged with second-degree murder, armed burglary, car theft and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in the death of 62-year-old Deborah Liles.

Lawson will be in court again May 31.

Liles -- a mother of five children and a grandmother -- was beaten to death March 23 in her home on East 59th Street in the Panama Park neighborhood, police said. Her husband found her dead in the kitchen of their ransacked home. Her car was also taken.

"He went and preyed on a small little lady, just taking care of her house, for a couple TVs. He took this man's best friend, and our mother," said Rachel Sirmans, Liles' eldest child. "He wrecked our lives."

Two days after it was stolen, Liles' gold 2010 Buick Lacrosse was found on Notter Avenue, just off Golfair Boulevard. Police obtained surveillance footage from the day of the murder of the car going into a mobile home park near the intersection of Main and 40th streets -- only a couple of miles from Liles' home. 

Detectives also learned that Lawson had admitted to a woman friend that he had killed someone while burglarizing a house, according to the Sheriff's Office. 

Police questioned Lawson and searched his home in the Long Branch Mobile Home Park, finding a pair of shoes with blood on them. The shoes were sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's lab.

Police said a handgun they found in Lawson's possession was not used in Liles' killing, which was the result of blunt force trauma.  

Liles' five children have set up a memorial fund that will go to the music program at San Jose Elementary School, where Liles taught, to keep it going strong even though their mother is no longer there. To donate, click here.

"There are hundreds of children at San Jose Elementary today who should just be having another day in music. And they're not going to have that because he stole from a community and he's stolen from Jacksonville," said Dana Standridge, Liles' daughter.