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Joseph Michael LAWRENCE





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Motive unknown: "I have nothing appropriate to say"
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: March 11, 2005
Date of arrest: 3 days after
Date of birth: 1982
Victim profile: Jason Gage, 29
Method of murder: Bludgeoned in the head with a bottle and stabbed in the neck with a shard of glass
Location: Waterloo, Iowa, USA
Status: Sentenced to 50 years in prison on December 17, 2005

Murder of Jason Gage

Jason Gage (1976 - March 11, 2005) was a 29-year-old man who was murdered in his Waterloo, Iowa apartment.


Jason Gage was last seen alive on March 11, 2005, socializing with friends in Waterloo's downtown bars. Sometime that night he went home to his apartment in the Russell-Lamson building. With him was 23-year-old Joseph Lawrence.

Gage was originally from Oelwein, Iowa. He'd lived in Chicago and Milwaukee before moving to Waterloo years earlier. He settled downtown, and worked waiting tables in the Italian restaurant of his apartment building. He enrolled at the College of Hair Design in Waterloo, Iowa, in January 2003, and his friends said he dreamed of working in a big city salon.

Lawrence moved to Iowa from Farmington, New Mexico, where he'd been an oil worker. New Mexico court records show that Lawrence pleaded guilty to possession of one ounce of marijuana in January 2003. He spent 30 days in the San Juan County Jail. Lawrence was born in Seaford, Delaware and was adopted at age 5. He moved with his adoptive parents to Maryland, New Jersey, and then to Ohio. He was removed from his birthparents for severe abuse and spent several years in foster care before he was 5. He has a history of mental illness for which he spent time in mental health group homes and hospitalizations. He has a history of intermittent rage disorder for which he has been treated in the past. During his time in Ohio, he decided he no longer wanted to be adopted and moved back into foster care at age 16. From there, he moved to Phoenix, Arizona and then on to New Mexico.

In early 2003, Lawrence moved from Farmington, New Mexico to Cedar Falls, Iowa, to be with his girlfriend—Elizabeth Hostetler—who was six months pregnant with their child. The couple—who had been together for a year—decided to move to Cedar Falls, because Hostetler had many "lifelong friends" in the area who could help with the baby.

Hostetler said she introduced Gage and Lawrence about a week before Gage's murder. Hostetler had met Gage through an acquaintance and had known him for about two years.


Witnesses said Gage and Lawrence were together the night Gage was killed. They were seen at Kings & Queens, the local gay club, before heading to an after hours party at The Times Bar. The two left at some point and headed back to Gage's apartment.

According to Hostetler, Gage told Lawrence that he could wait for a ride at his apartment, which was two blocks away from The Times Bar. A female friend and roommate of Hostetler's said Lawrence called late Friday or early Saturday asking for a ride home from downtown, because he "didn't like the hospitality of the place," and needed a ride or he was going to "end up in jail."

An investigator said he received a call from a man who had been asked to give Lawrence a ride home from a downtown club. Lawrence never showed up for the ride, and the man said he later heard that from Hostetler that Lawrence had beat up Gage.

In the early hours of March 12, phone records show Lawrence sent several text messages to friends in Iowa and New Mexico via his cell phone. "I just killed a guy I think, " one read. A second sent to Michael Bailey in New Mexico flashed "U need to call me soon." A phone conversation between Bailey and Lawrence, in which Lawrence said "some guy" tried to "hit on him real bad" and described "a fight that got way out of hand," indicated that Lawrence may not have known Gage was dead.

Discovery and arrest

At 11:00 p.m. on March 14, 2005, Gage's body was found in his bed when police entered his apartment, after friends expressed concern after Gage did not show up at work on Monday and had not been seen for three days. Gage had been bludgeoned in the head with a bottle and stabbed in the neck with a shard of glass.

Hours later, 23-year-old Joseph Lawrence of Cedar falls was arrested and charged with Gage's murder. Police said Lawrence admitted he had fought with Gage, hit him with a bottle, and stabbed him in the neck with a piece of glass.

An autopsy revealed that Gage died from severe head injuries. Gage's body lacked any defensive wounds that would suggest he had warded off an attack. When police entered Gage's apartment, two glasses were out, suggesting that Gates and Lawrence had been drinking and watching television.

Confession and motive

Lawrence gave a videotaped statement at the Waterloo police station after plain-clothes police officer went to the home he shared with Hostetler and asked him to come in for questioning. A police affidavit Lawrence acknowledged hitting Gage twice with a bottle and stabbing him with a piece of glass.

Plea and sentencing

On December 16, 2005, as part of a plea agreement, Joseph Lawrence entered an Alford plea in the case of Jason Gage's murder. The plea allowed Lawrence to avoid admitting guilt while acknowledging that he would likely have been found guilty of Gage's murder had the case gone to trial.

Originally charged with first degree murder, which would have meant a life sentence without parole, Lawrence pleaded to the lesser charge of second degree murder. As part of the plea agreement, Lawrence also waived his right to appeal the plea and the sentence, and to pay a $150,000 civil penalty to Gage's estate.

After entering his plea, Lawrence added "I have nothing appropriate to say," and sat silent during his sentencing.

Judge Bruce Zager sentenced Lawrence to 50 years, which was the mandatory punishment under Iowa law. Lawrence must serve at least 70 percent—35 years—of his sentence before he is eligible for parole.

Silence and "a string of facts"

Black Hawk County Attorney Thomas Ferguson said that, as there were only two people in Gage's apartment when he was killed, Lawrence's silence leaves authorities with a "string of facts" to explain what happened that night:

  • Lawrence told his girlfriend that Gage made sexual advances towards him. He told police that he hit Gage with a bottle and stabbed him in the neck with a piece of glass.

  • The two arrive separately at same Waterloo bar, and went to Gage's apartment when the bar closed. Ferguson said evidence shows Lawrence went voluntarily.

  • Two glasses were set out when police entered the apartment, suggesting the two were drinking and watching television.

  • Gage's body lacked any defensive wounds on his arms or hands, that would show he fought off an attack.

  • The stab wound from the glass was likely inflicted after Gage was already mortally wounded.

  • Ferguson said that Gage's apartment showed no evidence of a large scale fight or confrontation.

  • Lawrence showed no injuries that might have been sustained in a fight, when police picked him up three days later.

  • Lawrence did not call for help after assaulting Gage.


Man pleads to slaying

By Jeff Reinitz -

December 17, 2005

WATERLOO -- The New Mexico man accused of killing a Waterloo waiter in his apartment remained silent before he was sentenced to 50 years in prison for a lesser charge in the slaying Friday.

"I have nothing appropriate to say," Joseph Michael Lawrence, 23, said after entering an Alford plea. By entering the plea, Lawrence didn't admit guilt but acknowledged he likely would have been found guilty of killing Jason Edwin Gage, who was openly gay, had the matter gone to trial.

Originally charged with first-degree murder, which carries a life sentence, Lawrence entered the plea to the lesser charge of second-degree murder.

Judge Bruce Zager formalized the plea agreement and sentenced Lawrence to prison for 50 years, which is the mandatory punishment for the charge under Iowa law. Lawrence has to serve at least 70 percent of the sentence -- 35 years -- before he is eligible for parole.

Under the agreement, Lawrence waived his right to future appeals of the plea and the sentence and agreed to pay a $150,000 civil penalty to Gage's estate.

More than 25 of Gage's friends and family attended the court hearing.

Gage's older sister, Michelle Gage, told Lawrence he was hiding behind his silence.

"The reality of that situation is you chose the easy way out," she said.

She said the evil he sowed would return on him threefold and promised to attend his parole hearings to asked it be denied.

"You are a murderer, and you robbed my family of a precious gift," said Michelle Gage, who has become active in gay and lesbian causes since her brother's death.

With the plea, Gage's family can begin to start their lives over by living for Gage's memory and not for Lawrence's next court date, Michelle Gage said.

Lawrence's silence leaves open questions about the motive for the crime, which ended the life of Jason Gage, a 29-year-old waiter at the Brown Bottle and a student at the College of Hair Design, and sent Lawrence to prison. Lawrence had moved to Cedar Falls to be with his then-girlfriend shortly before the crime.

There were only two people in the Gage's apartment at the Russell Lamson Building when the crime occurred, and one of them is dead, said Black Hawk County Attorney Thomas Ferguson.

He said without Gage's account, the authorities are left with a string of facts and theories to explain the violence.

Lawrence had told his then-girlfriend that he beat up Gage after Gage made sexual advances toward him. He told police he hit Gage with a bottle and stabbed him in the neck with a peace of glass, according to court records.

"We can't say for sure that Jason Gage was killed because he was gay. We may have our theories as to what happened, but we can't say he was killed because he was gay," Ferguson said.

What the evidence shows and witnesses said is that Gage and Lawrence had met weeks before his death through mutual friends. Then on the night of March 11, the two arrived separately at the same Waterloo bar, Ferguson said.

After the bar closed, they went to Gage's apartment. The evidence shows Lawrence went voluntarily, Ferguson said.

Two glasses were out, suggesting they were drinking and watching television, he said.

Gage's body lacked any defensive wounds -- marks on his hands or arms that would have showed if he had fought off an attack, Ferguson said. The fatal blows came from blunt force trauma to the head.

The stab wound from the glass likely came after Gage was already mortally wounded, Ferguson said.

He said the scene at the apartment didn't suggest any large-scale fight or confrontation.

Another piece of evidence for the state was that fact Lawrence didn't call for help after assaulting Gage. He said Lawrence didn't show any injuries when police caught up with him about three days later after finding Gage's body in the apartment.


Crime scene tape marks the apartment in the Russell-Lamson Building where Jason Gage was found dead.



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