Defendant acquitted in salesman's death Mugging brought fatal heart attack


A Baltimore man accused of first-degree murder and robbery in the death of an 88-year-old traveling salesman who died of a heart attack during a mugging last year has been acquitted of the charges.

The jury in Baltimore Circuit Court took about 90 minutes Friday before finding Tony A. Lawson, 31, of the 900 block of E. North Ave., not guilty in the robbery and murder of Frank Altman.

Mr. Altman, who despite his age worked full time and was a traveling legend of sorts for the Harry C. Walterhoefer Paper Co., died Nov. 11, 1992, moments after a thief jumped him on his East Baltimore sales route and took his wallet. How much money had been in it was unknown.

"When push came to shove, the state did not have much in the way of evidence," said Spencer Gordon, a city assistant public defender who represented Mr. Lawson. "My client admitted being at the scene, but said someone else committed the robbery and took off running."

Mr. Lawson was arrested three days after the mugging and charged with first-degree murder, because Mr. Altman's death occurred during the commission of a felony.

A witness later told police it was Mr. Lawson who had robbed Mr. Altman in the 1800 block of N. Wolfe St.

But her account waivered, and she admitted at one point that she may have recognized Mr. Lawson from a television news broadcast that showed him being taken into custody, Mr. Gordon said.

The case had been widely publicized because of Mr. Altman's colorful history as a workaholic salesman who refused to give up his route, even though crime was on the rise and he had been robbed numerous times.

Mr. Altman was even reputed to have kept extra money in the trunk of his car, so he could replace money taken from him. He replaced the money out of his own pocket so company officials would not think he was losing his edge in his later years.

Police said they have no other suspects.

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