Updated with information from Gainesville Police Department
BY JENNIFER CABRERA
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – James Fitzgerald Lawrence, 55, was booked into the Alachua County Jail yesterday on a charge of premeditated first degree murder.
According to accounts reportedly provided to a Gainesville Police Department (GPD) officer by two witnesses, Santonio Smith and another person were in a conversation near a cut in the fence of GRACE Marketplace at about 6:30 a.m. on August 5 when the victim joined the conversation. After reportedly being told that the conversation did not concern him, the victim reportedly cursed Smith, then Smith and the victim began wrestling, and Smith allegedly slammed the victim to the asphalt and began hitting him in his groin and torso.
Lawrence allegedly held the victim’s wrists, keeping him pinned to the ground while Smith allegedly continued to hit and kick him. The victim died on scene, and an autopsy reported that the death was a result of blunt force trauma. One of the witnesses reportedly said that Smith was the one who “did the killing.”
GPD officers responded at 7:50 a.m. to a report of a body outside GRACE Marketplace and began their investigation after determining that the circumstances surrounding the death were suspicious. That investigation led to yesterday’s arrest and is still ongoing.
Post Miranda, Lawrence denied any involvement in the incident. He has nine felony convictions, the most recent in 2016, and six state prison terms; he was last released in May of 2021. He has been designated a “Career Offender.” He is being held on $1 million bail.
In a press release, GPD said that attempts to locate and question Santonio (aka Tony) Smith have been unsuccessful. Anybody who has more information about this incident is asked to contact Alachua County Crime Stoppers at 352-372-7867, https://www.stopcrime.tv/, or GPD Detectives at 352-393-7670.
We have reached out to Gainesville Police Department for more information about whether Lawrence or Smith were residents of GRACE Marketplace. All address information was redacted from the arrest report.
Articles about arrests are based on reports from law enforcement agencies. The charges listed are taken from the arrest report and/or court records and are only accusations. All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.