Dominic Lawton, a now-suspended Georgia State University student, appears in court Tuesday on charges of raping women at public parks. JOSHUA SHARPE/JOSHUA.SHARPE@AJC.COM

4 women accuse GSU student of raping them at public parks

The women told a similar story: an armed man stole them away in a red pickup truck, took them to a public park and forced them to have sex with him. 

When DeKalb County police found Dominic Lawton, a 30-year-old now-suspended Georgia State University student, he was at Exchange Park on Oct. 12 with a 17-year-old girl who said he’d just raped her.

Detective P. Lopez testified Tuesday in a probable cause hearing that Lawton suggested the sex was consensual, claiming he’d met the girl on Backpage.com, a site frequently used for advertising by prostitutes.

Police had already heard about three other similar instances at parks: one in June, one in September and one a few days earlier. That’s apparently why the officers were at Exchange Park in the first place. Lopez said he had advised patrol officers that at least one rape had taken place at the park off I-285.

Lawton, who is maintaining his innocence in all the cases, has been charged with rape and kidnapping in only two cases, one from Sept. 14 and one from Oct. 9. Lopez said he had trouble getting cooperation from the victims in the other two cases.

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But the detective’s testimony made it clear he suspects Lawton to be behind all four assaults.

Lopez testified in disturbing detail about the allegations in each:

One day in June: A woman said she a man showed her a gun in the parking lot of a Clayton County hotel and told her to get in his truck. 

He took her to a park, which Lopez suspects was Exchange Park.

“Don’t hurt me,” she said. 

“If you do what I say, I won’t hurt you,” the man said.

After the alleged assault, the woman ran away from the man at Dugan’s on Flat Shoals Parkway.

Sept. 14: A Backpage.com user said she agreed to meet a man at Super 8 on Panola Road in the Lithonia area.

He showed a gun and made her get in his truck. He talked about going to Dugan’s.

He took her to Exchange Park, where he said something to the effect of “I want you to make love to me,” and raped her. 

He threatened to kill her if she didn’t cooperate and joked that no one would ever find her body in the vast park.

Oct. 9: Another Backpage.com user met a man near the Downtown Decatur MARTA station. 

She got in the pickup without being forced, but the man later pulled a gun and made her get on the floorboard, presumably so she couldn’t see where they were going. 

They ended up at Mason Mill Park on McConnell Drive, north of Decatur, where he had her strip.

She told him she had an STD, hoping he would stop.

He didn't.

Oct. 12: The 17-year-old girl said she was raped at Exchange Park when officers arrived to find her with Lawton. 

But she was “hesitant to prosecute,” Lopez said. He gave her a card and told her to call if she changed her mind.

Lopez met with Lawton and asked him about all the cases. 

"He was saying he didn’t remember any of these women and then said he wanted his attorney," the detective said.

After the testimony, Magistrate Judge Claire Jason found probable cause for the state to continue with its case in superior court. Lawton is remaining in jail without bond.

As the hearing concluded, Lawton’s mother, who’d been listening to the testimony, got up and tried to walk over to her shacked, handcuffed son.

A deputy told her she couldn’t see him now.

She burst into tears and was led out of the room by Lawton’s attorney.

Later, on the sidewalk outside, the woman, still red-eyed and somber, declined to comment.

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