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Lyons wants charges dropped

By CRAIG PITTMAN, Times Staff Writer
©St. Petersburg Times, published July 27, 1997


LARGO -- The Rev. Henry Lyons has asked the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office not to prosecute his wife for setting fire to a Tierra Verde house he owns with another woman, while prosecutors have subpoenaed Lyons and the co-owner to give statements in the case.

Lyons' attorney, Grady Irvin Jr., said Lyons sent a letter to prosecutors earlier this week asking them not to pursue the case against Deborah Lyons. Mrs. Lyons was arrested July 6 by deputies who said she told them that she set the fires after finding the deed to the house that Lyons owns with convicted embezzler Bernice Edwards.

"My client does not desire to see the matter prosecuted," Irvin said of Rev. Lyons.

Irvin said he sent a letter of his own to prosecutors, telling them he didn't think they had a case against Mrs. Lyons.

"I am confident your investigation will determine that Mrs. Lyons could not have formed the intent to have engaged in any wrongdoing at the Tierra Verde property," Irvin wrote.

Irvin declined to explain that statement.

Mrs. Lyons' attorney, Kevin Hayslett, said he and partner Paul Meissner are still investigating the case themselves and waiting to see if prosecutors will file formal charges against her.

Asked about Irvin's suggestion Mrs. Lyons could not have formed any criminal intent, Hayslett said, "We're not going to worry about defenses until there's formal charges."

Deputies said Mrs. Lyons admitted letting herself into the $700,000 house, smashing lamps and ripping up pillows, then setting several fires. On her way home she crashed her car. The deputies charged her with burglary and arson.

St. Petersburg police Chief Goliath Davis said the officer who investigated the car crash did not think alcohol played a role in the accident.

A day after her arrest Mrs. Lyons told a Times reporter that the fire was an accident. She said she had known about the house all along and believed her husband was faithful. Lyons told reporters Edwards is only a business partner and family friend.

In his letter to Assistant State Attorney Frank Piazza, Irvin wrote that Mrs. Lyons had "unequivocal permission" to enter the Tierra Verde house, which would counter any charge she burglarized the home, and he called the fire an "unfortunate accident."

"I think it's no secret Mrs. Lyons was an invitee and was given access to that property," Hayslett said.

Prosecutors have been trying to set a time to interview both Lyons and Edwards about the Tierra Verde fire, but so far have been unable to schedule an interview, Piazza said. So prosecutors sent the pair subpoenas.

Normally the state attorney's office does not subpoena victims for an investigation. Prosecutors would only subpoena a victim "if you want to make sure they show up or if you know they're not going to show up," Piazza said.

The subpoena sends a message that "we want them in here to talk about it, and if you don't want to do it at your time then you'll do it at our time," Piazza said. "Time's running and we have to do it."

Irvin said his client will cooperate fully and meet with prosecutors. Bernice Edwards' attorney, Richard Rhodes of Orlando, said he had not seen the subpoena and had no comment.


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