Jury convicts man of first-degree murder in Perry Lake shooting death

photo by: Jefferson County Sheriff's Office

Jonathan D. Blevins

One of two area residents charged in the fatal shooting of a Lawrence man at Perry Lake one year ago has been convicted.

On Wednesday morning, a jury in Jefferson County District Court convicted Topeka resident Jonathan D. Blevins, 23, of first-degree murder in the death of Taylor D. Sawyer, 22.

The quick trial began Monday morning with jury selection. Jurors deliberated just over two hours before reaching their verdict, according to a news release from Jefferson County Attorney Joshua Ney.

Ney praised the multi-agency law enforcement investigation that led to what he called a “just verdict.”

“The professional and methodical efforts of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation ensured that the jury heard clear evidence of what happened that night,” Ney said in the release.

Sawyer was fatally shot in a remote area of Perry Lake on March 14, 2018.

The next morning, a Baldwin City woman told law enforcement that her daughter had witnessed a homicide the night before at the lake. Within hours, authorities interviewed the daughter then found Sawyer’s body in a parking area for accessing the lake’s walking trails that had been closed to the public for some time.

Blevins was arrested that afternoon at the Lawrence smoke shop where he worked. 

After further investigation, the woman initially described as a witness to the homicide became a suspect as well. Ashlyn N. Hemmerling, of Baldwin City, 18 at that time, was arrested the following day and also charged with first-degree murder. Her case remains pending, and a trial date has not yet been set.

photo by: Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office

Ashlyn N. Hemmerling

Blevins’ mother, Marcella Blevins, of Lawrence, said she was crushed by the verdict and believes her son is innocent.

Marcella Blevins, who said she attended the trial, criticized the same law enforcement efforts and evidence that authorities praised.

Jonathan Blevins took the stand at his trial and told jurors that Hemmerling planned and carried out the shooting, not him, his mother said.

He testified that he thought the group was just going out to the lake to smoke marijuana together, according to his mother, and he testified that Hemmerling had asked him to kill Sawyer earlier in the evening but that he refused, not thinking she was serious. According to his mother, he testified that at the lake Hemmerling took his gun from the vehicle they’d arrived in and used it to shoot the victim herself.

Marcella Blevins said her son’s first child was born just a couple weeks after he was arrested, that he had a good job as a manager at the smoke shop, and that he hadn’t had any problems with the law since a juvenile case involving marijuana possession and theft from a convenience store — also in Jefferson County.

“I know my son didn’t do it,” she said. “He had his whole life ahead of him.”

In the news release from the county attorney, Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Herrig also praised the case and verdict against Blevins.

“I’m thankful that Taylor’s family can see justice served for their son and brother today,” Herrig said. “This investigation brought together excellent detective work, state-of-the-art forensic testing, and expert crime scene investigation in order to discover the truth regarding Taylor’s death.”

Blevins’ sentencing is scheduled for April 18.

Hemmerling’s mother, Sarah M. Hemmerling, was charged in connection with the case, too.

She was charged with obstructing apprehension or prosecution, a felony, for allegedly helping her daughter avoid legal consequences when she knew she’d committed murder, according to the complaint. Ney dismissed those charges not long after they were filed but said he anticipates refiling the case against Sarah Hemmerling at a later date.

Sarah Hemmerling

Contact Journal-World public safety reporter Sara Shepherd


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