State seeks death penalty in Jacksonville music teacher's killing

Victim's husband opens up after ex-convict indicted in wife's killing

Police say Adam Lawson killed Deborah Liles during a random home invasion burglary.
Police say Adam Lawson killed Deborah Liles during a random home invasion burglary.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – State Attorney Melissa Nelson intends to seek the death penalty for Adam Lawson, the 25-year-old ex-convict charged in the home invasion killing of beloved Jacksonville music teacher Deborah Liles.

Prosecutors notified Lawson of their plans Friday, a day after a Duval County grand jury indicted him on first-degree murder charges in the 62-year-old woman’s March 2017 beating death.

Liles' murder, which galvanized the community, is especially noteworthy because she was the victim of a break-in decades ago. In that case, she survived and helped send her attacker to prison for life.

“I can't see any other charge with what he made her face. He took her life and I think he set the terms for the value of his life when he did that," Michael Liles, the victim's husband, told News4Jax Friday.

Liles was the one who found his wife bludgeoned to death inside the kitchen of the couple's home in the Panama Park neighborhood March 23. Their house was ransacked. Her car was gone.

“For him to do that to somebody he didn’t know, that had no reason to have that level of hatred, it is unconscionable,” Liles said of his wife's killing.

Police found her stolen Buick LaCrosse two days later. It was ditched near Notter Avenue and Golfair Boulevard. Surveillance video led them to a mobile home park a few miles from the couple's home.

Based on that footage and a tip from a woman who spoke with Lawson after the killing, police searched the man's home. Inside, they said, they found a pair of shoes that had traces of blood on them.

Lawson, who was released from prison in 2016 after a six-year stint for burglary, was booked on charges of murder, armed burglary, grand theft auto and possession of a firearm by a felon.

Even though a year has ticked by since Michael Liles lost the love of his life, he's still coming to grips with the fact that she's gone. He said he would give anything to spend just one more day with her.

"We had 41 years together of as good of a relationship as you can have," he told News4Jax.

He's not alone. His wife meant the world to the couple's five children and nine grandchildren. She also was a fixture at San Jose Elementary, where she touched thousands of lives over the years.

While the ordeal has been devastating, Liles is glad his wife's case is moving forward. Now in charge of the Justice Coalition, a crime victims advocacy group, Liles knows families don't always get justice.

As executive director of that organization, Liles devotes his time and energy to helping other families of crime victims pick up the pieces after their lives have been upended by violence.

"There's no real way to celebrate somebody facing the death penalty because of what they did to your family. ... But at the same time, I think it is the only fair charge for him to face," he said.

Lawson is scheduled to appear in court next month. Liles said he and his family will be there. While the case is not expected to go to trial for at least another year, he's hopeful that someday he'll get closure.

"I would love for it to be over," he said. "I would."

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