Audie Lynn Fox, the man convicted of murdering Itasca County sheriff's deputy Robert "Beefy" Lawson nearly four decades ago, will remain in prison.
Minnesota Department of Corrections officials voted to extend the 66-year-old's incarceration by at least 10 more years after a "life sentence review" hearing Tuesday, spokeswoman Sarah Fitzgerald confirmed. It's the fourth time Fox has been denied parole.
"We're very pleased with the decision," Bob Lawson, the victim's son, said Wednesday. "Obviously, it helps to maintain justice, and I think it's going to continue to have a tremendous positive impact on many people."
Bob Lawson shared his story with the News Tribune in December, recalling the events of 1981 and the lasting impact of the crime in the Iron Range community.
He said the periodic review hearings reopen old wounds, but expressed gratitude for the community support his family has received, noting that more than 450 letters were submitted to the review board prior to the hearing.
"In Itasca County, this really affected so many people," Bob Lawson said. "Keeping him in prison is going to help a lot of people sleep better at night. … I'd like to thank each and every person who took the time to write a letter, because I think it did have a big impact on the decision."
Beefy Lawson, a father of seven, had been on the job with the sheriff's office for 11 years when he was fatally shot by Fox on Oct. 29, 1981.
Lawson, 51, of Taconite, was off duty when he agreed to go to a Pengilly home owned by Fox's parents at the request of his ex-wife, who had requested his help in picking up the couple's two children.
When Lawson entered the home, he found the two young children sitting at the kitchen table with Fox's aunt. Fox then emerged, pointing a .357 pistol at Lawson's head, according to court documents.
The defendant demanded Lawson give him a phone number for Pam Fox, but the deputy said he did not have it on hand. Fox made Lawson lay down on the floor, again demanding the phone number.
When Lawson was unable to produce the number, Fox counted to three and shot the deputy in the head.
A roughly 18-hour standoff ensued, with officers forcibly entering the home at about 4:30 a.m., arresting Fox. The children were uninjured.
At an April 1982 trial in Brainerd, Fox did not dispute that he killed Lawson, but his attorney maintained that he was mentally ill and incapable of understanding his actions. A jury disagreed, finding him guilty of first-degree murder.
While the killing of a police officer today carries mandatory life imprisonment, state law at the time allowed for periodic parole reviews. Fox has filed several unsuccessful appeals of his conviction and life sentence, along with many civil lawsuits that have been dismissed.
Parole was previously denied in 1996, 2006 and 2016. But he was up again this year because the DOC only set a five-year extension last time.
Fitzgerald said Fox does maintain the right to petition for reconsideration after another five years, but he's not guaranteed to receive a review hearing again until 2031.
Bob Lawson said he felt that the five-member panel was respectful and "genuinely had an interest in our family and what was best for the community" during the hearing, which was conducted via Zoom.
"The closure is never going to be there until he takes his last breath," he said. "But between now and then, we'll do the best we can do. Our family never asked to be in this spot, but we have to do what we can in the situation. And I think keeping him behind bars is far better than out in society, where he wouldn't be contained by the structure of prison."