Zachary Dawson’s murder in 2014 shook the small community of Madison in western Monroe County, and his friends say his loss is still raw. "He was my friend, my rock, my strength," said Kasey Calk last week as she recalled his life. "I miss him."
Friends are recalling Dawson’s life as his alleged killer faces a July 17 trial in Callaway County. Jason Lage, 36, is charged with first- and second-degree murder in Dawson’s shooting death in his home at 101 W. Olive in Madison. Lage is in the Monroe County Jail in lieu of a $1 million bond.
Lage’s alleged accomplice, 31-year-old Jessica Munoz, has pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in exchange for "her truthful testimony" in the case, according to Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney Talley Kendrick, who declined to comment further on the pending case. Munoz was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Dawson, a 2006 graduate of Madison High School, was a lifelong resident of the small city. Calk called Dawson, who stood more than 6 feet tall and weighed about 250 pounds, a "teddy bear." Two years after his death, friends are still posting wishes on his Facebook page.
"A lot of negativity … on Facebook these days, but also there’s still some good. Your page is a perfect example of how you still continue to live on through our memories. We all have missed you and will continue to miss you for years to come. See you around buddy," wrote one friend on his Facebook page in February around the second anniversary of his death.
Wrote another friend: "Missing you extra today, Sweetheart. Think of you every day and how I wish you had really realized how your bigger than life personality and friendship meant to so many lives you touched. I don’t think you really knew how many friends cared for you so deeply. I know you walk with Jesus now and are looking after every person who was kind to you and loved you."
Dawson’s cousin, Colleen Dawson, recalls an outgoing man who did not fear what others thought, who seemed to know everyone, and was well-liked by his network of friends.
"He was kind, helping, considerate and would do anything for anybody without expecting anything in return," she said. "He loved to make people laugh, and he could spark a conversation with anybody. Often times, we could not go anywhere without him knowing somebody, almost as if he knew everybody…a bit of a social butterfly, to say the least."
Calk said that Dawson and she had words in their first meeting. He called her a name, and she said that she got face-to-face and challenged him.
"I am 4-foot-11…and I got in his face and told him I do not back down," she said. "He got a smile, grabbed me and hugged me, and we were instant friends. It is just so hard without him."
According to law enforcement reports, Dawson, Munoz and Lage spent the evening drinking at Bud’s Place, before visiting various bars in Moberly, then returning to Dawson’s residence later in the evening. Police report the trio continued drinking around a table.
According to police, Dawson retrieved a handgun from a room inside the residence and returned to the table, proceeding to unload the gun and give it to Lage. The police report says that Munoz saw Lage holding the gun when she went to the bathroom.
When she returned, Munoz said that Dawson was on the floor, bleeding, according to the report. The pair, she told police, then left residence, called her sister and another person, then Munoz says she called 911 dispatchers and returned to the Dawson residence.
Police said that Lage claimed Dawson shot himself accidently, later changing his story in an interview, telling a friend that, "I did it but it was an accident," stated police in a probable cause statement. Police report that Lage told the friend that the gun just went off.
In a probable cause statement, law enforcement officials lay out a much different version of events. They allege that after being shown the gun, Lage decided to rob Dawson. Police allege that Lage confided later to a friend that he held the gun at Dawson’s head and demanded money, and that after Dawson stood up he "pushed the gun to the back of his head to intimidate him, when the gun fired."
Dr. Carl Stacy of the University of Missouri Medical Center performed an autopsy on Dawson. He said that Dawson’s wound was similar to that of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) who survived a 2012 assassination attempt.
"Dr. Stacy stated that the gunshot wound, known as a tangential wound, in his opinion, was possibly survivable…He indicated that it would have been possible for Mr. Dawson to survive if he would have received medical attention immediately," reported police in the probable cause statement.
Instead, police say Munoz and Lage delayed calling for help while they cleaned up the scene and gathered personal belongings.
Police report that after Lage and Munoz left Dawson’s house, they came back to retrieve Munoz’s jacket and cell phone.
According to police, Munoz said that as she and Lage were leaving Dawson’s house the second time that evening, the 32-year-old man was on the floor, bleeding and "murmuring" and attempting to sit up. However, police report that she said, 911 dispatchers were not called until she and Lage disposed of potential evidence and gathered Lage’s personal effects.
Two years later, Dawson’s friends continue to cope with his death.
Calk says that her friend still comforts her.
"We visited the cemetery and I was having a bad day," she said. "There is a hardhat on this stone, and I touched it, and everything around me seemed to stop, as if to tell me that everything would be all right…he is still with me and taking care of me. Every day."