An Officer and a Killer
Lawman Ralph Andrew Lawrence was primed to kill on that spring evening in 1986. In his mind, his enemies had conspired to ruin him--starting with waitress Sharma Bethel, an ex-girlfriend from the southeastern Arizona town of Willcox.
Lawrence had figured his troubles with Bethel were ancient history. That stuff had happened back when he was a Cochise County sheriff's deputy. But the Arizona Department of Public Safety had fired Lawrence after it accidentally learned about the three times in 1982 he had kidnaped Bethel.
Lawrence couldn't believe it. He hadn't been charged, and as far as he knew, no one had even filed police reports about the incident. DPS fired him anyway.
It was time to exact his revenge.
Lawrence grabbed his .357 Magnum and stormed out of a friend's house in Tucson. He shouted something about going to Willcox--eighty miles east in Cochise County--to take care of business.
The friend called Cameron Morran, a Cochise County sheriff's deputy who also knew Lawrence well. Morran drove to Interstate 10 and waited for Lawrence to drive by. Morran flagged him down, and they drove their cars to a parking lot to talk. As cops and cabbies often do, the two talked while they sat in their cars with the motors running. Lawrence's gun was on the passenger seat of his Mustang.
He told Morran he was on his way to gun down Sharma Bethel. And he planned to murder the DPS cop who had set his firing in motion. He also had it in for a sheriff's deputy or two.
"I told him, `Hey, you were a good cop. At least I thought you were,'" Morran recalled in a recent deposition. "`If you ever want to get back in this business, doing what you're doing now is not going to get you anyplace. You've still got a chance at it.'"
Apparently calmed after more than two hours, Lawrence returned to Tucson. Morran didn't speak with him for a few months, though he heard his pal landed a job with the Springerville Police Department.
Then Morran learned in early July 1986 that Lawrence had been arrested for shooting at a woman up in Phoenix. Soon after that, Lawrence--out of jail awaiting trial--looked up Morran in Cochise County.
It was self-defense, Lawrence told Morran. This woman he'd been dating, Kathy Buyse, had pointed a gun at him, Lawrence claimed, and then had tried to run him down with her car. He'd shot at her and her new boyfriend to save himself.
"He says, `Mo, I've got to kill that bitch,'" Morran recalled. "I said, `Ralph, we have been through a conversation like this once before. I don't want to hear it.' And he smiled and said, `Yeah, I guess so.'
"It wasn't like the first time. He was reserved and calculating, like he had already made his mind up about something. I had no idea, even in my wildest dreams, that he was actually going to go through with something like that."
A month later, Lawrence went through with it.
SOMETIMES, WHEN COPS go bad, their bosses call press conferences and denounce them as rogues. That's what DPS did last fall when patrolman Martin Mix was fired after having sex with a motorist.
But Ralph Lawrence is the ultimate rogue cop, and none of his former bosses at five Arizona police agencies wants to call attention to it.
Lawrence murdered Kathy Buyse, a divorced 21-year-old mother, on August 22, 1986. The fatal bullet blasted her in the face on the front porch of her mother's home in Peoria. It was the second time in two months that Lawrence had tried to kill Buyse.
Arizona authorities are protecting Lawrence these days. In 1987, they moved the ex-cop (who had pleaded guilty to first-degree murder) to an out-of-state prison, where fellow inmates wouldn't have heard of him. He's to be locked up until at least 2031, when he'll be 73.
But only now, through a lawsuit filed by Kathy Buyse's mother against the state of Arizona, Cochise County, and the town of Eagar, is Lawrence's protracted tale of terror being pieced together.
Slated for trial this year, the suit claims Kathy Buyse would be alive if not for the cops' staggering negligence. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Stanley Goodfarb says the case is "on the leading edge or beyond what seems to be the law on the obligations of a police officer to potential victims of crime."
It turns out that police agencies did their best job of protecting Lawrence before he killed Buyse. And that has various officials scrambling for explanations. They acknowledge the tragic events that led to Buyse's murder, but deny responsibility for it.
"Nobody I talked to at our place is aware of the suit," says the chief DPS spokesman, Sergeant Allan Schmidt. "I know very little about the case other than what I read in the paper; that is, that the guy didn't know what to do when his girlfriend broke up with him. I don't know anything other than we fired him at some point before he murdered the girl." Court records and interviews by New Times indicate that Arizonans should be asking how many rotten apples have become cops because of woeful background screenings and deficient certification. And they should be asking how far cops will go--for whatever reasons--to protect their own.
In Ralph Lawrence's case, Arizona law enforcement let the inexcusable happen:
* Lawrence kidnaped waitress Sharma Bethel three times in 1982--once in his Cochise County patrol car. He was never arrested, and prosecutors declined to charge him. Then, sheriff's officials allowed Lawrence to quietly resign as a deputy. A former sheriff's detective speculates that happened because Sheriff Jimmy Judd feared adverse publicity during the time his department was embroiled in a highly publicized and deadly war with a black church group in Miracle Valley. Judd vehemently denies that.
* In June 1986, Maricopa County Commissioner Roy Carson released Lawrence from jail after he was accused of shooting at Kathy Buyse and a friend of hers. In granting pretrial release to Lawrence, the commissioner cited his lack of a criminal record and his upcoming new job as a Springerville police officer. Two months later, Lawrence killed Buyse.
Neither Carson nor the judge who presided at Lawrence's subsequent assault trial in Maricopa County learned until after Buyse's murder of the similarities between the 1982 Cochise County incidents and the Buyse case.
That judge, Michael Ryan, says he would have revoked Lawrence's release from jail or set a high bond if he'd known about Sharma Bethel. And Ryan says he would have jailed him immediately if he'd known of Lawrence's eerie vow to "kill that bitch."
* State, county and local law-enforcement agencies either hid Lawrence's checkered background from one another or failed to follow through on the information they did have about his troubles with Bethel.
In 1985, when the DPS was checking Lawrence's background before hiring him, a Cochise County sheriff's sergeant would reveal to DPS officials only that Lawrence had resigned in 1982 because of "personal problems." Only after DPS hired Lawrence did it discover that those "problems" involved allegations of kidnaping, assault and burglary. And the agency found out only by accident: A DPS officer recognized Lawrence's name on a roster and remembered the oft-whispered tale of Sharma Bethel.
DPS then violated the rules of the Arizona Law Enforcement Officer Advisory Council--the agency that certifies cops--by not reporting why it had fired Lawrence. That meant Lawrence kept his police certification--a big plus for him when he successfully sought release from jail after his first attempt to kill Kathy Buyse.
* While awaiting trial on charges of shooting at Buyse, Lawrence had two cop friends, Cameron Morran of Cochise County and Eagar town cop Ben Garms, and a pal named Sean O'Malley with the state Department of Corrections run license-plate numbers for him on their computers. The plates belonged to Buyse's friends, on whom Lawrence secretly kept watch as his trial drew near.
One can hardly blame Lawrence for having been so brazen. After all, four Arizona police agencies, including the supposedly elite DPS, hired Lawrence after the Sharma Bethel incidents in Cochise County.
RALPH LAWRENCE GREW up in Bisbee, one of Curby and Flora Lawrence's four children. The Lawrences were schoolteachers, and the family was tight-knit. Ralph was a lanky, pale youngster with a long, thin nose and ice-blue eyes. He was polite and neat and rarely rocked any boats.
The teen-aged Lawrence was more interested in dirt bikes than in schoolbooks. He quit Bisbee High during his junior year and went to work. By this time, the demons inside Lawrence already had started to chip away at his cool exterior. Lawrence's friends would kid him about how he turned to Jell-O around girls, and he'd explode defensively.
He was cited once as a teen for possessing alcohol, and another time he was accused of burglary (a charge later dropped). Lawrence job-hopped around Bisbee for a few years until Cochise County hired him as a sheriff's deputy in February 1980.
Lawrence spent the next two years working out of the Willcox substation. His performance ratings were satisfactory, and he seemed to have found a niche in the small town of 3,000.
Then Sharma Bethel came along. A pretty waitress who once was a princess at the town's Rex Allen Days gala, Bethel was eighteen when Lawrence met her.
They dated for a few stormy months in early 1982, but Bethel says she soon knew Lawrence wasn't Mr. Right. He was possessive and pushy, and he left tiresome notes for her even after she broke up with him.
In April 1982, Lawrence snapped. He approached her one night as she left work. She told him to get lost. Bethel then noticed Lawrence following her in his Blazer. She pulled her car over to avoid upsetting her parents if he followed her into their driveway.
Lawrence grabbed Bethel and forced her into his Blazer. That's usually called kidnaping. He handcuffed her to a roll bar and drove to the outskirts of town.
For hours, Lawrence blathered to Bethel about how she'd broken his heart. Finally, he drove back to Willcox, threatening to kill her if she told anyone what had happened. She kept quiet.
A few weeks later, Bethel saw flashing police lights in her mirror as she drove home from work. At first, she thought a cop was going to cite her for speeding. But it was Ralph Lawrence.
This time, Lawrence marched up to Bethel's car, dragged her out and handcuffed her. He shoved her in the back seat of his patrol car and taped her mouth shut. He then drove outside of town and pulled out a gun.
Lawrence pointed it at her and told her she was going to pay for hurting him. He said that a woman's body recently had been found nearby and that she could be the next victim. Bethel silently prayed.
After more than three hours of this, Lawrence suddenly told her, "Oh, my God, I'm on duty. I can't be doing this." Then he took her home. Bethel didn't stay mum this time. She told a sheriff's deputy what had happened. He informed his lieutenant, and Lawrence was given the choice of resigning or being fired.
Lawrence quit, and no police report was filed about either of the two incidents. Privately, though, the Cochise County's Sheriff's Office was extremely skittish about Ralph Lawrence. Former sheriff's detective Matt Perry recalls a meeting between Sheriff Judd and Lawrence shortly after Lawrence quit: "It was to get his job back. And I remember the sheriff coming out later and saying that he had his gun under his chair the whole time he talked with him. The sheriff had his gun out under the table because he didn't know what to expect from the guy. He didn't know if he was there to shoot him."
Ralph Lawrence picked a bad time to go nuts. Jimmy Judd and his deputies were warring with a cult-like church group based in Miracle Valley, a tiny community located between Sierra Vista and Bisbee.
The clashes between the deputies and the all-black group had gained the attention of the national media, who generally depicted it as a classic case of a racist sheriff's department against a group of God-fearing folks. That was off the mark, but Judd in June 1982 was feeling the pressure.
The last thing Judd needed was stories about a wacko deputy. It was best for everyone concerned--except perhaps Sharma Bethel--that Lawrence quietly be allowed to go his own way.
Just before dawn on June 16, 1982, a few weeks after he quit, Lawrence began his third attack on Bethel. "I was awakened by something going around my neck," she later told police, "and then I was pulled out of my bed. I was in a state of panic. When I first awoke, I saw a set of hands with gloves on them. He was wearing a blue ski cap that covered everything except his eyes. He had blue jeans on with a black belt that had his holster with his pistol in it and a DPS belt buckle.
"He kept a tight hold around my neck. I was very scared and I was crying and screaming for him to let go of me. Finally, I managed to jerk my head and bend it down. I bit him on the arm just above the wrist. By this time, I realized who he was. He proceeded to tell me that he was going to kill himself and he wanted me to be the only person who knew."
Lawrence handcuffed Bethel and pushed her onto her back. He tried to kiss her, and told how much he loved her. She screamed that her parents would be home soon. Lawrence told her she was coming with him. He drove into western New Mexico and parked in a remote spot.
Lawrence moaned that he was done as a cop and that he'd have to kill himself. "He said he never would get a job again," Bethel recalled in a 1982 police interview. "I told him that there had to be some kind of job somewhere, even if it was pumping gas or driving a truck."
Bethel convinced Lawrence to return to Willcox without harming her. She reported this third incident.
(In a March 1987 statement to a Maricopa County judge, Lawrence said of Bethel: "Her stories were incredible. She has taken a little bit of truth and mixed it up with a lot of lies. I absolutely deny that I ever forced her to go anywhere with me against her will or ever pointed a gun at her."
(But even Lawrence's lawyer, Bill McLean, saw it differently. "I thought she was going to come across as an extremely credible witness," McLean said recently in a deposition. "She was Little Miss Rex Allen Days, or whatever it was. Cute little cowgirl from Willcox that was going to be a devastating witness.")
Sheriff's sergeant Jim Self requested an investigator after he heard what had happened. Sheriff's detective Matt Perry was assigned to the case. Perry says he was ordered to report directly to Sheriff Judd.
"We were in the middle of a lot of things going on in Miracle Valley at the time," Perry recalled in a deposition. "That didn't really probably affect our decisions or actions on this, but we were jumping around to a lot of things. So I had conversations with the sheriff, and it seems to me that we knew we needed to do something.
"The sheriff indicated that the fact that Lawrence was a deputy recently and was asked to resign because of other incidents that occurred that he didn't want the bad publicity for the department. So he told me to hold off as long as we could, see if it would die on its own."
(Perry himself later was fired after a run-in with Judd over an unrelated matter. He sued Cochise County in federal court, but lost. He now works as an investigator for the state Registrar of Contractors.)
Shortly after Perry started his investigation, he met with deputy county attorney Tom Dugal. Dugal (now with the Pima County Attorney's Office) was known to play it by the book. That's what makes his actions concerning Lawrence so baffling.
According to Matt Perry's police report, he and another sheriff's detective had warned Dugal that "Lawrence's mental state is questionable. . . . Bethel's safety could be in jeopardy if action is not taken immediately."
Dugal, however, wouldn't authorize an arrest warrant. He suggested instead that the detectives seek a petition for mental evaluation. Dugal has contended in a deposition that he "would not give Lawrence or anybody preferential treatment." He added, however, that he hardly remembers the Lawrence case.
But Matt Perry says, "We knew we had to do something because there was definite probable cause to believe Lawrence had committed this crime. . . . Without arresting him and charging him and prosecuting him, we went this route."
A local judge signed the petition, and the detectives met with Lawrence later that night. Lawrence denied everything at first, then owned up to some of Bethel's accusations.
He spent the night at the Cochise County Jail and was taken the next morning to the county hospital in Douglas. Two days later, Dr. Robert Sanford concluded that Lawrence "appears psychiatrically sound at the present time."
Sanford cited Lawrence's record as an "exemplary officer" and referred to "considerable discrepancy" in Sharma Bethel's accounts of her kidnaping. "He does not appear to be threatening, nor a danger to himself or to other people at the present time," the doctor concluded. "It has become apparent this patient is not truly psychotic and is evidently not truly suicidal, although . . . he does suffer from a rather deep-seated emotional problem which he probably needs help in counseling."
Sanford made an appointment for Lawrence at a county counseling center. Lawrence never kept that appointment.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Judd met in Willcox with Sharma Bethel and her dad, Floyd. Accounts of that meeting vary. Bethel says the sheriff tried to convince her not to press charges.
"Jimmy Judd and all them, they more or less discouraged us," she testified years later in a presentence hearing for Lawrence in the Buyse assault case. "We thought about it. If he goes to court and gets off, they slap him on the hand. Then he's going to come back and kill me for good."
Her father doesn't remember it that way.
"[Judd] asked me if we were going to press charges," Floyd Bethel recalls, "and at that time I was undecided. But we sat and talked quite a bit and I said, `Well, for Sharma's sake, I don't feel like we should--if I have a guarantee that the bastard was never back in Willcox.' Our concern was that she was going to have a breakdown or something over this. So we wanted to try to get her back to being normal."
Judd rejects the allegation that he tried to dissuade the Bethels. "I disliked Lawrence intensely for what he was doing," he said in a deposition. "If you think for a second that I would go around trying to discourage anybody [from prosecuting] him, well, you're wrong."
Detective Matt Perry's police report of August 1982--two months after the final Bethel incident--concludes:
"Ralph A. Lawrence committed assault and kidnaping upon Sharma Bethel, and he [should] continue to seek treatment at the Southeast Arizona Medical Center in Douglas as long as deemed necessary.
"If Lawrence fails to comply, or commits any offense upon victim Bethel, these and subsequent charges should be filed against him and he should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
But by the time Perry filed his report, Ralph Lawrence already was working as a cop in Show Low.
WITH RALPH LAWRENCE seemingly behind him in 1982, Jimmy Judd was able to focus on Miracle Valley. Less than four months after Lawrence kidnaped Sharma Bethel for the third time, sheriff's deputies shot it out with the church group in Miracle Valley. The clash ended in the death of two church members and injuries to numerous participants on both sides.
Judd's department, meanwhile, had informed ALEOAC--the state's cop-certification agency--that Lawrence had quit. At the time, Arizona police departments weren't required to report the details of an officer's departure.
ALEOAC started demanding that specific information in 1984, but Judd--a former member of the agency's Rules Committee--says there are problems with that.
"It's called Catch-22," Judd says. "If you send something to ALEOAC and there is anything erroneous in it whatsoever, and that man's certification is jerked, then he can sue you and sue you good."
Lawrence resigned from the Show Low Police Department in mid-1983 and went to work as a cop for the town of Eagar. In August 1984, he applied with the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
The state cops had openings in early 1985, so DPS officer Charles Stevens did a background investigation of Lawrence. That report, obtained by New Times, indicates that Stevens first spoke with Cochise County sheriff's sergeant Jim Self--Lawrence's former supervisor in Willcox.
"[Self] stated that Ralph had some personal problems and that [Self] would not rehire," Stevens wrote. "I asked Sergeant Self if he would elaborate on the matter. He stated he preferred not to."
Stevens then called the Show Low Police Department. A sergeant there told him "it was his personal opinion that Ralph was a little mixed-up in the head. He would not elaborate on the matter. He would not recommend for rehire."
The DPS investigator also contacted the Eagar Police Department. The Eagar chief described Lawrence as "a special young man who would be an asset to this department." That five-star review apparently is the one Stevens bought.
Stevens finally interviewed Lawrence. "He is quiet in his manner and has a pleasant personality," the DPS officer wrote. "It is his desire to be employed with DPS and is intent on a career in law enforcement."
On March 15, 1985, DPS hired Lawrence. A few weeks after that, however, DPS sergeant Ron Kirby saw Lawrence's name on a duty roster. Kirby had been working in southern Arizona for almost two decades, and he had heard the gossip about Lawrence and Sharma Bethel. "I said, `I don't think we want this man,'" Kirby recalled in a deposition.
DPS fired Lawrence on April 9, 1985, after only three weeks on the job. The state cops canned him for lying when he checked "no" on his application next to a question about whether he had ever been fired or forced to resign.
Under the new rules that had gone into effect in 1984, DPS was supposed to provide ALEOAC within fifteen days after firing an officer "a detailed statement of the nature and cause of the termination and a written statement from the agency head indicating whether or not he is recommending revocation of peace-officer status to the council."
But DPS never revealed why it had fired Lawrence or even if it recommended revocation of his peace-officer certification, and ALEOAC officials never caught the omission. ALEOAC business manager Melvin Risch says he doesn't know what happened. DPS officials can't explain it either.
His certification was intact. Ralph Lawrence once again had slipped through the cracks of Arizona's police-watchdog agency.
Several months after DPS canned him, Lawrence wrote to Jimmy Judd asking that the evidence of his uncharged 1982 crimes--the handcuffs, the stocking cap, the gloves--be returned to him. A detective wrote back in January 1986 that the case was still "open" and that he wouldn't return anything.
"Lawrence was no friend of this department," Judd tells New Times, "and he was no friend of mine."
Judd also refused to release police reports of Lawrence's 1982 troubles. Lawrence sued for them, and in early 1986 a Cochise County judge ordered the sheriff to release them.
Soon after reading these reports, Lawrence went into a near-homicidal rage. That's when he drove to Cochise County to kill some of his supposed enemies. On that occasion, at least, Cameron Morran stopped him in time.
KATHY BUYSE DIDN'T know about Ralph Lawrence's problems when she met him in April 1986. She was the mother of a little boy named Drew, the product of her short marriage to physician Jeff Buyse.
A tall, ebullient blonde who loved a good joke, Kathy Buyse and her mom recently had opened a pizza place at 35th Avenue and Northern. She also worked part time at a sporting goods store and dreamed of someday becoming a lawyer.
By now, Lawrence was living in Phoenix, waiting to learn if the Springerville Police Department would hire him. He bided his time by working on his car at a friend's home. That friend lived next door to Buyse. By about the second week of May 1986, Lawrence and Buyse started dating.
"Ralph Andrew, thank you for being such a beautiful person with a golden heart," Buyse wrote to Lawrence during those first, apparently blissful days. "Mr. Policeman (Can you be arrested for breaking the law of gravity?) You are sensational! Love, hugs, and kisses, Kathy."
But Lawrence got too serious too fast for Buyse's liking. She decided--almost to the day that Springerville hired him as a cop--to break things off. That floored Lawrence.
On June 20, 1982, Lawrence drove to Springerville and passed his physical. The department issued him a badge and ordered him to report for work a few days later. (He never did report to work in Springerville.)
The next night, June 21, Buyse went with a friend named Mike Felton to a restaurant near Metrocenter. After dinner and a few drinks at a nearby bar, the pair left for Felton's apartment. Felton hopped onto his motorcycle, and Buyse drove her own car.
Moments after they left, a car flashed its lights on and off at Buyse. She stopped, and Lawrence pulled alongside. He wanted to talk, but Buyse drove off. Lawrence chased after her as Felton tailed on his motorcycle.
Lawrence caught up to Buyse and fired three rounds at her. All narrowly missed. She lost control of her car and it slammed into a pole. Lawrence later told a friend he thought he'd killed her, but Buyse escaped with deep bruises.
After Buyse crashed, Lawrence headed for Mike Felton. Felton drove his motorcycle onto a curb to prevent being run down. Lawrence then fired at him at least two times. The shots missed, with one bullet snapping off the mirror of Felton's motorbike.
Lawrence was a fugitive for four days, during which time he hired Phoenix attorney Bill McLean. On June 25, McLean convinced Lawrence to surrender.
Word of the June 21 shooting incident soon reached Cochise County. Sheriff's deputies provided a safety escort for Sharma Bethel for a time from work to home. Still, no one from the county contacted the Phoenix detectives who were investigating the assault on Buyse to tell them of the Sharma Bethel case.
"If they acted to protect Sharma Bethel," Superior Court Judge Stanley Goodfarb noted last month in a pretrial ruling, "it is difficult to understand why the information wasn't conveyed to Maricopa County."
The DPS officers who knew about Lawrence's troubles with Bethel also sat on their hands. DPS sergeant Kirby--the cop who'd blown the whistle on Lawrence in 1985--says he just didn't make the connection then between Bethel and Buyse.
Lawrence's lawyer told the authorities Lawrence was claiming self-defense. Bill McLean pleaded with them not to arrest his client because of the dangers Lawrence might face when other inmates learned he was a cop.
But the Phoenix police booked Lawrence on charges of aggravated assault. At an initial appearance a few hours later, McLean asked that Lawrence be released on his own recognizance. Court commissioner Roy Carson soon agreed.
"If Commissioner Carson had known about the Bethel incident," Bill McLean later said, " . . . would [Lawrence] have been there two months later when [Buyse] got killed? I don't know. It certainly would have been an uphill battle to get him out of jail at all."
Instead, Ralph Lawrence was back on the streets.
KATHY BUYSE LEFT town for a week or so after Lawrence tried to gun her down. She stayed with her ex-husband--with whom she'd remained friends--then returned home to try to recover from her close call with the guy she once had lovingly called "Mr. Policeman."
In the weeks following the June 21 incident, however, a series of events haunted Buyse. She complained that she just knew someone was watching her. Everyone suspected Lawrence, but no one saw him.
Other strange things also were happening. Buyse went to a dentist in early August and learned that a person claiming to be her brother had canceled her appointment. When she returned to her car, she saw that someone had rifled through her belongings. Another time, a vehicle she didn't recognize followed her home one night, then veered off. And someone flattened the car tires of friends of hers who had visited her at her mom's home in Peoria.
Lawrence was hunting Kathy Buyse. There is convincing evidence that he rummaged through her garbage, photographed her and her friends from long-range and may even have tapped her mother's phone line.
He also had police pals Cameron Morran, and Ben Garms from Eagar, and Department of Corrections employee Sean O'Malley, run several names and license plates for him through their criminal-justice computers. That was an effort to dig up dirt on Buyse's friends and on an eyewitness to the June 21 assault.
(The three later were convicted separately of illegally using the criminal-justice computers--the first such prosecutions in Arizona. Each was fined and put on probation.)
On August 13, 1986, a spooked Buyse called prosecutor Mike McVey. He and Phoenix detective Mike Hobel told her it would be impossible--based on the vague information they had--to ask a judge to revoke Lawrence's release from jail.
Buyse's mother, Mary Jane Mack, says she would have made her daughter leave town if she'd known of Lawrence's violent history toward ex-girlfriends. There's no indication that Kathy Buyse knew anything about Lawrence's incidents with Sharma Bethel. "They should have warned us," Buyse's mother says. "They should have warned somebody."
"If Mike McVey had brought Sharma Bethel into court and had her testify to what she testified to," Judge Michael Ryan said in a recent deposition, "I can say I would have put a very high bond. The [Bethel] situation was highly unusual. I am surprised it was never prosecuted. . . . If I had been presented in the petition to revoke [Lawrence's release from jail] that Lawrence was committing the crime of accessing the computer, I would have revoked him because he committed a crime while on release."
KATHY BUYSE AND a girlfriend left work at a west-side sporting goods store at 9 on the evening of August 22. They went out dancing for a spell and stopped back at the sporting goods store to chat with the night crew. Buyse dropped her friend off about 1 a.m. and went home.
At about 1:20 a.m., Buyse's next-door neighbor called Peoria police to report she'd heard a scream followed by shots. Buyse's mom also heard a bang and peered half-asleep out a window. She saw Buyse's pickup in the driveway, figured it had backfired and returned to bed.
The cop who responded to the neighbor's call soon found "a white female lying in a pool of blood at the front door." It was Kathy Buyse, dead.
Mary Jane Mack was asleep when police arrived, as were Buyse's brother and young son. Peoria police awakened them with the news.
Lawrence remained on the lam for more than two months. During that time, Mack and her son, Kurt, slept in the same room, with a loaded gun nearby, expecting Lawrence to try to kill them.
But Lawrence had left Arizona with a woman he'd met soon after he murdered Kathy Buyse. He was arrested October 31, 1986, after a tour guide at Lehman Caves National Monument in Nevada recognized him and contacted police.
Nevada detectives confiscated a gun and $6,300 in cash from Lawrence's car. They also found handwritten notes Lawrence had made during his pre-murder surveillance of Buyse and her friends.
Lawrence went on trial in January 1987 for shooting at Buyse in the Metrocenter incident. Jurors were told during that aggravated-assault trial only that the victim was "unavailable to testify." They convicted Lawrence anyway, and only then were told that Kathy Buyse had been murdered.
After his assault conviction, Lawrence was charged with killing Buyse. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder after prosecutors promised they wouldn't seek the death penalty.
"I awaited for Ms. Buyse to arrive home so that I could kill her," Lawrence told the judge in a prepared statement before he was sentenced. "At approximately 1:17 a.m., Kathy Buyse arrived home. I approached her near the front door of her home. I fired three bullets at close range. Two bullets struck Kathy Buyse and caused her death. I committed this act and formed the intention to kill Kathy Buyse after much thought, reflection and planning."
PHOENIX COP MIKE HOBEL insists that no one could have stopped Lawrence from killing Buyse.
"I don't know what I could have done to save her life," Hobel says. "I think even if we had known all of that information, it would have been extremely difficult to keep him from getting to her--because it became apparent that he was bent on killing her. The guy went about it very meticulously."
But Lawrence hadn't been that meticulous. For one thing, he had blabbed to a fellow cop about planning to "kill that bitch." Of course, Cameron Morran never spoke up about it.
Morran testified at Lawrence's presentence hearing in 1987. After he finished, he approached Kathy Buyse's mother in the lobby.
"He came over to me and started apologizing," Mary Jane Mack recalled in a deposition. "And he was still talking to me when my daughter [Kimberly Long] came out of the courtroom. She said, `Get away from him.' And that was the last I saw of him."
Morran had resigned under pressure as a Cochise County deputy after Buyse's murder. But he kept his police certification for more than two years after Kathy Buyse was murdered and for more than a year after his conviction on computer fraud.
In 1987, the Hayden Police Department hired Morran. In January 1989, ALEOAC finally revoked his certification.
"I thought that maybe out of all this, the police would start checking out their people more, but I guess not," says Kathy Buyse's sister, Kimberly Long. She wears a necklace with a gold pendant that says, "BRAT." Buyse was wearing that necklace when Lawrence murdered her, and Long says she'll never take it off.
"I figured that maybe they'd tighten up their standards," Long says, "so guys like Lawrence and Morran and Martin Mix can't become cops anymore. People say, `Your sister is in a better place now.' But I tell myself, `No way this was in God's plan. One of his angels had to be sleeping on duty that night.'"
Sharma Bethel, now married to a Willcox police detective, still fears Lawrence. "I am scared of Ralph and when he gets out," Sharma wrote to Judge Ryan in 1987. "I will go through more nightmares and hell again. The world isn't big enough for me to run and hide forever. He would catch me for sure. He's that type of person.
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