Columbia man gets life sentence for 2014 Monroe County slaying

Jason Lage of Columbia, who was convicted by a jury in March for the 2014 shooting death of a Monroe County man, was sentenced life in prison on second degree murder and 50 years for murder and 50 years for armed criminal action on Thursday during an often heated and emotional hearing in a Callaway County court.

Judge Jeff Harris ordered the sentences to be served consecutively in the gruesome murder of Zachary Dawson, 26, who died in the early hours of Feb. 19, 2014, after a night of drinking at areas bars before ending the evening at Dawson’s house in Madison.

Under state law, Lage, 38, will not be eligible for parole until he serves a combined 36 years on both charges. The judge gave him credit for the four years he’s already served.

Lage, who sat at the defense table, dressed in an orange prisoner jump suit and shackled at the wrists and ankles, alternately stared at the defense table and shook his head at members of Dawson’s family, who were in the courtroom providing victim-impact statements. And before he was sentenced, he angrily declared that he had been wrongly convicted.

“I do want to appeal,” he told Judge Harris, after he said that he was unhappy with the representation he received from his court-appointed defense attorneys, Gerald Mueller of Jefferson City, and James McConnell of Shelbina.

Nine family members and friends sat behind Lage on the left side of the courtroom, while Dawson’s family and friends sat behind the prosecution.

Judge Harris opened the hearing listening to a defense motion to vacate the jury’s verdict, either issuing a directed verdict of not guilty or vacating the conviction and ordering a new trial.

McConnell cited what the defense called several errors committed by the judge, and challenged the credibility and accuracy of several prosecution witnesses, extending an argument made in closing statements.

Lage was convicted of shooting Dawson just behind the left ear in a robbery attempt. Lage had come to Moberly, Mo., on the evening of Feb. 18 to meet Jessica Munoz, following a meeting on Facebook. Munoz pleaded guilty to charges related to the evening, and received a seven-year sentence and agreed to testify at the Lage trial.

Evidence showed that Dawson bought the couple drinks, because they had no money, and when the bar closed earlier than normal, Dawson offered to taken then for a ride in his SUV. The trio ended up at Dawson’s home in Madison.

Lage shot Dawson in an attempted robbery with a pistol Dawson had shown Lage, prosecutors argued. The defense, though, argued that Dawson turned the gun on himself, committing suicide — or at minimum shot himself accidentally. McConnell portrayed a picture of Dawson as a man who frequently displayed his gun while he was drinking alcohol.

“The trial court committed a prejudicial error for not granting” a directed verdict of not guilty during the trial, McConnell said, saying that the evidence did not support a guilty verdict.

The judge rejected the defense motions and allowed victim-impact statements before announcing the sentence.

Michelle Draper, one of Dawson’s aunts who attended the hearing, said the murder still has impact on the family.

“Do you know what it is like to get a message early in the morning that a family member has died?” Draper said as she looked straight at Lage. “Do you know what it is like to wait 2 ½ hours to find out what happened… I know that God will make the final judgment.”

Another aunt, Jackie Barrow, told Lage that the family was ripped part by Dawson’s death.

“This guy was just a friendly young man,” she said of her nephew. “You have hurt our lives so much.”

Then, looking at Lage, she added: “I do not know what brought you to this point, Jason. I do not know what has went on in your life to bring you to this point…we are sorry for whatever your situation has been in life but taking someone life and leaving him to die like you did….it scares me that you are out there and could do this to someone again.”

As Barrow talked, Lage shook his head from side-to-side, while his friends and family showed their disapproval.

As he spoke to the judge before sentencing, an often-emotional Lage proclaimed his innocence.

“For four years, I was wondering why me,” Lage said of the time he has been held on a $1 million cash bond for the murder. He then turned to Dawson’s family, saying: “I’m sorry for the family I and am sorry for what he did to himself.”

Prosecutors immediately objected and Judge Harris told Lage to limit his comments to the bench.

“I don’t deserve this,” he said. “I’ve been treated like an animal for no reason.”

After Lage spoke, Judge Harris issued the sentence. As he detailed the sentence, several of Lage’s friends and families rose to their feet and started to walk forward. They were quickly stopped by five court officers and ordered to take their seats.

Lage’s supporters started yelling toward him after the hearing was adjourned.

One yelled” “Stay strong, Jason. Stay strong.” Another yelled, “You have my number, Jason. Call me.”

As Lage supporters were escorted from the courtroom, a woman stopped and pointed a finger in the direction of Dawson’s family.

“I am coming after those people who tampered with evidence,” she said loudly.

After the hearing, Kendrick said the sentence was appropriate for the crime.

“I am pleased with the sentence handed down by Judge Harris,” she said. “I believe it properly took into account the danger Jason Lage posed to the community, the serious nature of the jury’s findings and his lack of remorse throughout the process. This will not lessen the loss felt by Zach’s friends but I hope it brings a sense of justice and closure.”