LOCKPORT – Dale W. Lawson Jr., the City of Lockport’s water distribution supervisor, pleaded guilty in Niagara County Court on Tuesday to setting his own porch on fire last month following an argument with his wife.
Lawson, 53, had faced arson charges in the April 18 fire at his Grosvenor Street home, but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree criminal mischief, a nonviolent Class D felony.
As part of the plea, Lawson was offered an opportunity to return to court and have the charge reduced to a misdemeanor after he completes mental health court and interim probation. Sentencing was set for July 19.
Lawson told Judge Matthew J. Murphy III that he has been in treatment for depression for the past six years and was taking medication daily.
He could face up to one year in Niagara County Jail on a reduced misdemeanor, but Murphy told Lawson he could be sentenced to up to seven years in state prison on the felony charge.
Assistant District Attorney Heather Sloma asked the court to impose a limited order of protection and allow Lawson to move back into the house with his wife, Molly. Sloma said that after speaking with Lawson’s wife, she did not believe the woman was in any danger.
On April 18, Molly Lawson told Lockport police that her husband was intoxicated when they had an argument; he poured gasoline on their back porch and lit it. Lawson admitted to police that he had set the fire.
Lawson remains free on $10,000 bail. However, as an added condition of bail, Murphy said the court orders Lawson not to have any alcohol in the house or consume any alcohol outside of the house. He also must hand over any weapons in his possession.
Felony criminal mischief was charged for intentionally damaging the property of another person. Lawson was charged based on the fact that there is a mortgage on the house and by setting the house on fire, he damaged property that belongs to the mortgage holder, the Federal Credit Union.
Lawson was place on paid administrative leave following his arrest in April. Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said Tuesday there was no change in that status and he will continue to draw his salary of $54,530 per year, but she will be discussing the plea and the city’s next step with the city attorney.