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Police arrest man in 1983 slaying

It took more than 25 years, but Las Vegas police can finally cross one homicide investigation off their books.

On Tuesday police announced the arrest of George Lawson, 51, suspected in the 1983 shooting of Ismael Ceballos at a downtown hotel parking lot.

Lt. George Castro said detectives received their first lead on the cold case using advanced technology — unavailable in 1983 — to obtain fingerprints from a car near the crime scene.

"The little fingers of suspects’ hands were not routinely recorded during the period of Ceballos’ murder," Lawson’s arrest report says. "Therefore, a known suspect’s fingerprints could not be matched to an unknown little finger print located at a crime scene. Recently these prints have begun to be processed for matches, as the little fingers of known persons are now recorded."

Those fingerprints matched Lawson’s arrest profile, where the little finger of his left hand had subsequently been recorded on a lesser criminal infraction.

Lawson, who had not been a suspect in the immediate investigation, became a fresh lead for police — their first since the ’80s. But there was still work to do, Castro said.

"A sole match doesn’t mean you’re done with the case," he said. "It leads to a name, which leads to a person, and after interviews, investigation, you determine whether they’re a suspect."

Castro said fingerprint identification has largely been replaced by DNA testing today but can still aid police.

"It goes to show that old police work never ends," he said. "Without the detectives’ careful work at the crime scene (in 1983), none of this would have been possible."

According to police, Lawson and Ceballos, who was in his 60s at the time of his death, were arguing in December 1983 about a trivial matter in a hotel parking lot at 117 N. Ninth St., near Ogden Avenue, when Lawson shot Ceballos.

The men did not know each other, Castro said.

"One guy was leaning on a vehicle, the other said, ‘Hey, move, get out of the way,’ " he said.

It’s difficult to obtain leads when the crime is random, Castro said. The first time Lawson was questioned by police about the crime was Sunday — the day he was arrested.

During the interview, Castro said, Lawson confessed to the slaying after several denials.

"His body language showed a sense of relief," Castro said.

Ceballos’ wife, now in her 80s, and children still live in the Las Vegas area and have been informed of Lawson’s arrest.

Castro said Ceballos’ wife was very surprised to hear the case was solved. As police left her home, she began to cry.

"It really hit her hard," he said.

Lawson, who lived 10 years in California and about the last 20 years in Las Vegas, has an extensive criminal history of "minor" infractions — never at the level of murder, Castro said.

"He’ll be treated as if it (the slaying) happened yesterday," Castro said.

Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@review journal.com or 702-383-0283.

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