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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Order to murder came from 'devil,' expert testifies

By William Cole
Advertiser Courts Writer

The man accused of murdering a vacuum cleaner salesman in Waialua said he was on a "mission" to kill people and chop up their bodies after voices commanded him to do so, a psychiatrist testified yesterday.

Michael Robert Lawrence is charged with second-degree murder in the 1999 disappearance of Melchor Tabag.

Advertiser library photo • March 28, 2001

Dr. Robert Collis interviewed Michael Robert Lawrence after he was charged with second-degree murder in the 1999 disappearance of Melchor Tabag.

When Collis asked Lawrence why he was at Hawai'i State Hospital, Lawrence "said he was hearing voices telling him to kill him (Tabag) and chop him up. He said he chopped him up and brought him to the dump," Collis testified in Circuit Court yesterday.

According to Lawrence's lawyer, Tabag unwittingly became a victim of the defendant's psychosis when he knocked on Lawrence's door on March 27, 1999, with the goal of selling him a Kirby vacuum cleaner.

Lawrence, 25, is on trial without a jury before Circuit Judge Virginia Crandall on charges that he murdered the 41-year-old vacuum cleaner salesman whose body was never found. Lawrence's lawyer is raising the insanity defense.

During defense opening arguments yesterday, Deputy Public Defender William Jameson said Lawrence spiraled into a world of delusional thinking.

Isolating himself from the outside world, he became fixated on an unplugged computer monitor he once placed on the roof of his parents' Waialua home, Jameson said.

Lawrence "became sicker and sicker" and troubling voices became a command, Jameson said. "His mission was to kill and chop people up."

"What he (Tabag) found was a man — Michael Lawrence — who thought and believed Mr. Tabag would be the first of several (victims) to come," Jameson said. "Michael calmly struck the victim in the head and then stabbed him and then dismembered him."

City Deputy Prosecutor Kevin Takata said a refuse transfer station between Hale'iwa and Waimea Bay is the "dump" talked about by Lawrence, but police did not search there for Tabag's body because they heard about the dump more than a year after Tabag disappeared, and also because rubbish there is routinely moved to two other spots on the island.

Yesterday, Collis reported other bizarre behavior by Lawrence. While at the O'ahu Community Correctional Center, Lawrence didn't speak to anyone for weeks on end, collected his urine and smeared feces around the cell, Collis said.

Lawrence also told Collis that Bill and Hillary Clinton were his parents, that he was part of Microsoft, that he worked for the CIA and as an insurance agent, and that the "devil" gave him his mission to kill.

Lawrence, his ankles shackled and wearing a green OCCC jumpsuit, sat looking down yesterday, his curly long hair shrouding his face.

Lawrence faces life in prison with the possibility of parole if he is convicted of second-degree murder.

If he is acquitted by reason of insanity and deemed dangerous, he will be committed to the state mental hospital.

Two mental health experts who examined Lawrence — Collis included — concluded he was "substantially impaired" at the time of the killing.

A third expert, along with an expert hired by the state, said Lawrence was not substantially impaired.