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
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
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:
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
"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
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
"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 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