But prosecutors said Lawlor, 45, a leasing agent in Orange’s building, used a key to enter her apartment as she dozed on a couch one night in September 2008. He bashed her in the head 30 times with a hammer, and 17 more times on her arms and body, an autopsy showed, then sexually assaulted her and left behind DNA that implicated him.
Lawlor did not testify or speak throughout the eight-week trial, and he did not visibly respond when the jury chose the death penalty.
Orange’s mother, Marilyn Orange of Roanoke, sat through three weeks of jury selection and then about five weeks of trial and deliberations. She attended along with some of her daughter’s close friends from McLean Bible Church, where Gini Orange sang in the choir and volunteered with children’s groups. Marilyn Orange and her daughter’s friends wept and hugged each other as the verdict was read.
“That was for Gini,” Marilyn Orange said afterward. “That’s why they were here,” she said, gesturing to her daughter’s close friends Betsy Cantrell and Maria Jacoby, who also sat through the entire trial. “That’s why I was here.”
To impose a death sentence in Virginia, a jury must find either that the defendant is a future danger to society or that the crime was so vile and inhuman that it warranted the death penalty. In Lawlor’s case, the jury found both.
“A mother never wants to see anyone die,” Marilyn Orange said. “But just like the jury, I think he would do it again.”
The jurors were escorted to their cars by sheriff’s deputies and could not be interviewed. Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Jonathan C. Thacher did not release the jury list, a public record, so the jurors could not be reached Wednesday night.
Lawlor is a New Jersey native whose attorneys conceded at the outset that he was guilty of murder. But they argued that he wasn’t guilty of capital murder because he was drunk and high on crack after a daylong binge Sept. 24, 2008. The jury rejected that argument, and the case moved to the penalty phase, with two choices: life in prison without parole, or death.
The defense told the jury that Lawlor’s upbringing was so horrible that he was compelled to become an alcoholic and drug abuser as a teen and that a life of crime followed. Witnesses testified that Lawlor’s father was a pedophile who repeatedly molested Lawlor’s sister and that his mother physically and verbally abused him.
Given a bus ticket by a sympathetic New Jersey probation officer, Lawlor moved to southern Virginia. But at 18, he drunkenly stole a truck, rolled it over and killed a friend. He went to prison for the first time.
In 1998, while Lawlor was living in Northern Virginia, he began stalking an ex-fiancee in Great Falls. One night, he snatched her from her car by smashing her windshield and swiping the keys. He did another five-year prison stretch.
By 2008, he was living in the Prestwick Apartments on Leesburg Pike, now called the Jefferson Apartments.
Marilyn Orange spoke with her only child every morning, often to make sure she was awake and on her way to work. Gini Orange worked at the Futures Industry Association in Washington as a meeting planner, and co-workers testified that they adored her.
But on Sept. 25, 2008, she didn’t answer her mother’s call, and she didn’t show up for work. Police officers found her later that morning on the floor of her studio apartment.
“She was asleep in her own home, behind a locked door,” Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond F. Morrogh told the jury in his closing argument, “when a man who is a virtual stranger to her creeps down to her place. He’s armed, he’s got a hammer with him. Why? Because she was a beautiful woman. That was her crime. Sadly.”
Ed Ungvarsky of the Virginia capital public defender’s office said that Lawlor had been a relatively compliant prisoner.
“I ask you, I implore you, I beg of you, choose life,” Ungvarsky told the jury in his closing argument Monday. Members of the defense team said they were disappointed and would appeal.
Morrogh had the final say, and he nodded to the victim’s mother in the front row.
“There’s a terrible tendency in these trials to forget about the victim,” Morrogh said. Gini Orange’s birthday was last week, he noted, and her mother “celebrated that birthday by attending her killer’s capital murder trial. In this case, the only fitting punishment is the death sentence.”