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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Fugitive - Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: December 1, 1986
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: April 1, 1955
Victim profile: Madeline M. Kisner (female, 45)
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife 12 times
Location: Kent County, Delaware, USA
Status: Executed by lethal injection in Delaware on April 26, 2001

Supreme Court of the United States


Dawson v. Delaware








Committed during burglary while on the run after escaping from Delaware prison. Victim was bound and gagged and stabbed 12 times in chest.

Dawson had 14 prior felony convictions, 3 escapes from maximum security prisons, and had been almost continuously behind bars since age 13. 1988 death sentence reversed; retried and again sentenced to death in 1993.

Days before execution, Dawson admitted murder to Board of Pardons.


Delaware Department of Correction

David F. Dawson was found guilty of first degree murder in the December 1, 1986 slaying of Madeline M. Kisner of Kenton. On April 2, 1993, Dawson was sentenced to death by lethal injection by Judge Henry DuPont Ridgely.

This is the second time Dawson has been sentenced to death. The first death sentence was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court and sent back for a new penalty hearing in 1992.


David F. Lawson

Associated Press

April 26, 2001

DELAWARE: David F. Dawson was put to death early today for the 1986 murder of a Kenton woman. Dawson, 46, was pronounced dead by lethal injection at 12:05 a.m. at Delaware Correctional Center.

He spent his last hours sleeping, eating, reading, writing letters, talking to Department of Correction staff and visiting with his family and friends and his spiritual adviser and attorney.

On April 17, Dawson admitted to stabbing Madeline M. Kisner to death after he and 3 other inmates escaped from DCC in December 1986. The confession came during an unsuccessful commutation bid before the Board of Pardons and followed 14 years of denials and appeals.

Dawson separated from his fellow escapees and entered Mrs. Kisner's Kenton-area home, where he bound and gagged the 44-year-old bookkeeper before stabbing her 12 times in the chest and neck. When asked during the pardons hearing why he killed Mrs. Kisner, Dawson blamed drugs and alcohol.

Using Mrs. Kisner's car to flee, he spent that night drinking in 2 Milford-area bars. He was captured the next day near Lincoln after falling asleep in another stolen car.

The other escapees - Mark McCoy, Richard Irwin and Larry Nave - were later arrested in St. George, Utah, and were not involved in murdering Mrs. Kisner.

The jury hearing the case in June 1988 spent three hours deliberating before finding Dawson guilty of 1st-degree murder.

The 8 men and 4 women then took an hour and a half to unanimously recommend a death sentence. Calling Dawson a "depraved character," Superior Court Judge Henry du Pont Ridgely followed that recommendation and originally sentenced him to die later that year.

That date and 3 others -in 1993, 1994 and March -were postponed through a series of appeals. When Dawson and the 3 other inmates broke out of prison in 1986, he had 6 years left to serve on a 12-year sentence for theft and other charges.

The escape from DCC was not Dawson's 1st. He escaped 3 times from a maximum security juvenile facility before 1973. In July 1975, Dawson fled through a fence at the pretrial annex building near Prices Corner. In February 1983, he walked away from the Plummer Center in Wilmington, turning a one-day furlough into a 4-month excursion.

In his hearing with the Board of Pardons last week, Dawson said he had gone to school in Milford and Harrington. During the hearing, Deputy Attorney General John Williams said Dawson had an "extensive" criminal record.

Mr. Williams said Dawson was jailed for burglary at age 11. He was committed to Ferris School at 13 in 1968, his 1st of 5 trips to the school. Before he was an adult, Dawson was charged with 3 escapes and 2 attempted escapes. His adult record, according to Mr. Williams, included 14 felony convictions and adult escapes.

There are 15 men on death row in Delaware. Dawson becomes the 1st condemned inmate to be put to death this year in Delaware and the 12th overall since the state resumed capital punishment in1992. Dawson becomes the 27th condemned inmate to be put to death this year in the USA and the 710th overall since America resumed executions on January 17, 1977.

(sources: Newszap & Rick Halperin)

David Dawson was sentenced to die for the December 1, 1986 murder of Madeline Marie Kisner of Kenton while burglarizing her home.

Madeline was a 45-year-old bookkeeper and was stabbed to death by Dawson and a couple other inmates who had escaped from Delaware Correctional Institution near Smyrna a few days earlier. Some of the escapees were found in Arizona.

Dawson, who was originally condemned in 1988 to die for the murder, had his sentence vacated in 1992 by the high court because prosecutors wrongly introduced his membership in the Aryan Brotherhood as evidence in his penalty hearing.


Canadian Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

David Dawson reveals the details of his case in his own words. David says that he was not the killer.

I'm always reading about people, spending years on death row, until they find someone who cares enough to prove their innocence by having a DNA test done despite the evidence that convicted them. Maybe I'm missing something, is this DNA test just for other states and not Delaware? I have concerns with lawyers.

The lawyers usually use their legal issues to get new penalty hearings and I can understand the lawyers concern to have our lives saved, but they just don't realize when a person is innocent. A new penalty hearing is still a lost battle. To an inmate, even if he is given a life sentence, it still feels like being on death row.

Is there anyone with the power to help me? I've watched friends on death row fight and they are dragged to their death and if you can get someone to hear my voice, please who ever you can get to hear me, help me. I don't want to die. I don't agree with lying . . . I am pretty much alone when it comes to my case.

My story begins when three other inmates, Larry Nave, Mark McCoy, and Richard Irwin, escaped along with me on December 2, 1986. I was caught still wearing the prison clothes. I was charged with first degree murder. The victim was stabbed twelve times.

The prosecutor said that I acted alone. At the murder scene, a head hair was found on the victim's chest and a pubic hair was found underneath the victim's fingernail. DNA testing was done and it proved that these two hairs didn't belong to the victim or the family and they also proved not to belong to me, David Dawson. I don't want to be convicted and sentenced to death.

The prosecutor gave their star witness, Kathy Nave, the sister of Larry Nave, a pardon for perjury. In 1986, Kathy Nave gave a statement on a cassette tape that said she had not been involved with helping the escapees afier we escaped. She swore to God on this tape, a number of times, that she told the truth.

The week or so before trial, Kathy Nave, gave a different testimony than the one on tape and she swore to God this statement is the truth. By law, when there are two conflicting statements, it's perjury and it doesn't matter which one is the truth or a lie. If these statements were turned around and in favor of the defendant, the prosecutor wouldn't allow a witness to change their statement or the defense would seek perjury charges. I'm not allowed to seek perjury charges because the prosecutor has given a pardon to Kathy.

At the first trial, a police officer testified that the head hair was tested against the other three escapees and that it didn't match and so they assume the pubic hair wouldn't match either, so they didn't bother to test it. They never showed any documents showing when they came to get the hair sample from the three other escapees, nor did they show any results of testing the hair against these three men.

I have the FBI results of those tests with me. These three other men went to trial on different charges that took place on December 2, 1986. They were caught two or three weeks later.

The murder weapon was never found and the knives that were found on these three men were never tested to see if one of those knives had been the murder weapon. I went to trial in 1988, and my lawyer raised the issue of the knives not being tested.

The prosecutor told the court that the knives had either been stolen or disposed of and felt there was no need in testing the knives because the State claims that I, David Dawson, acted alone.

If they felt that strongly about not testing those knives, then why did they claim they had tested the head hair against those three men? I had a Rule 16 hearing around or about 1996-97. The police officer claims there was no testing of that head hair against those three men.

When we escaped, we stole a car by hot wiring it. It broke down a couple of miles from the prison. While the three others went to make a phone call at a pay phone, I was looking for another car to steal.

A gas station attendant saw these three men at the payphone. Larry Nave was the only one who made a phone call. He called his sister, Kathy Nave, and she refused to come pick us up.

We decided it would be best to back track, because we left the stolen car on the main highway and it wouldn't be long before they found it and would figure we were still heading North. Once we got back to where we started from, in the town of Smyrna Del, we stole another car with the keys in it. We ditched the car on a back road and went on foot.

While we were resting in a wooded area behind a couple of houses, I decided to go by myself to see if I could get in one of the houses. I stole five or six pocket watches, coins and a black leather jacket.

The only reason I took the jacket was because it had pockets with zippers and if we had to run, I wouldn't lose any of the items I had taken and I was the only one who wasn't wearing a prison coat. We ended up in another wooded area beside one house.

There was a car and pick-up truck at this house. I figured that since I was wearing the leather jacket and a leather hat, that I had while in prison, I would go to the house and knock on the doors. When no one answered, I started to look for a way into the house.

When I came to the back of the house, the lady of the house was standing in the kitchen. I asked her if I could use the phone. She opened the sliding glass door just enough to hand the phone to me. I tried to call an old girlfriend and when I couldn't get an answer,

I handed the phone back and forced the sliding glass door open with my right hand and ran inside the house and grabbed the lady by the hair. I told her who I was and that I wasn't going to harm her. I just wanted the keys to the car and some money.

She asked where the others were. I told her they were outside in the woods. She led the way to the bedroom and gave me a glass, half full of coins. I told her I would have to tie her hands so that we could get away and to wait until she felt that we were far away before she called the cops.

After her hands were tied, she sat on the edge of the bed. I asked her what town I was in and she said "Kenton." After a couple more questions, I saw fear come all over her face.

She was looking toward the bedroom door. I looked and the other three guys were standing there. One of them asked if I knew where we were and I told them the name of the town and that there was a store right down the road where we could fill the car up with gas and get anything else we needed.

Someone wanted to know what to do with the lady and I told them that she was tied up pretty good and to leave her alone.

Finally, we decided that I would go and fill the car with gas while they tied her feet to the bed. We were afraid that if we all went to get the gas someone might see and recognize us and call the police.

I remember hanging around this area years ago and I thought someone might have known me and then I thought, the house isn't that far from this store and someone may notice the car.

I decided to go somewhere else, so I went to a town called Camden. When I got back to the house, the others weren't there. I found the lady dead on her bed. She had been stabbed and there was blood everywhere. Her bathrobe was pulled open and one of her breasts was showing.

The bottom of her bathrobe was pulled up and she wasn't wearing any underwear. I pulled her bathrobe down to cover what was showing. I walked beside the bed and I looked down at her, my legs gave out and I started crying and when I looked at her I told her, "I am really sorry lady." I should have never left her with them.

I left and went to see if I could find them walking down the road. I went to the end of the road and they were nowhere to be found. I then thought that I need to get something to drink and to figure out what to do, but I couldn't get my act together.

All I could do was drink and I kept seeing that lady laying there the way I found her. All the plans I had for escaping were no longer in my head. I had given a handwritten statement of what happened and in that statement I mentioned an attempt of rape on this lady.

The reason that I gave that statement was because of the way that I found her, with her bathrobe pulled up. I felt that the others had raped her, but I had pulled her bathrobe down and I didn't attempt to rape her and I wanted them to check to see if she had been raped.

I knew if she had, they would find out I wasn't the one who raped her, but one, or two, or all three of the others. That's what happened on December 1, 1986. I pray for help every day and I thank you so much for listening to my story.

David Dawson



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