Wednesday, Jan. 28, 1998 | 10 a.m.
Country-western singer Tracy Lawrence had the makings of a new song Tuesday -- The Turned 30 and Got Convicted of Domestic Violence in a Courtroom Made from a Trailer blues.
After a Sept. 13 incident at Primm, Lawrence's wife charged him with beating her and yanking a clump of hair from her head after a dispute over his gambling. They had been at the stateline town for a one-night performance at Buffalo Bill's hotel-casino.
Stephenie Marie Lawrence, 28, retold the story Tuesday to Goodspring Justice of the Peace Janet Smith in her pre-fab courtroom in Jean, 30 miles south of Las Vegas.
Lawrence countered that his wife fabricated the beating and jerked out her own hair, but he conceded that he had shoved her to the ground as they tussled inside one of his tour buses.
Smith ruled that admission was sufficient to find him guilty of domestic violence, but she decided the encounter didn't warrant a jail term and ruled out counseling as an impractical burden on a man who spends 200 days a year on the road.
Instead, she ordered him to donate $500 to the Shade Tree Shelter for battered women in Las Vegas.
"At a time when judges often rule to satisfy the public's thirst for domestic violence convictions, she bent over backward for justice," said Lawrence's attorney, Oscar Goodman.
Deputy District Attorney Lisa Luzaich said the dispute had originated over his gambling and repeated secret dips into their bank account, although it was the clandestine withdrawls and not the amounts that were at issue.
Back in his Strip hotel room after the misdemeanor trial, Lawrence was philosophical about the incident and the court case -- embracing it as a wake-up-call, a character building experience and, maybe, the source material for a new song.
He didn't shirk from his culpability, adding that he is glad he faced the charges and told his version of events in the rural courtroom to a judge who isn't even a lawyer.
"Too often people in the entertainment industry try to buy their way out of it," Lawrence said in his heavy Arkansas accent. "I made a mistake. I shoved her. It was physical but I didn't beat my wife."
"I'm going to go away learning a whole lot," he said. "This whole thing is going to change me a lot. It's going to make me smarter and better."
The incident, he said, has prompted him to re-evaluate his life that has been rocketing along since his first song seven years ago hit the top of the country-western charts. He was 23 at the time.
"Life gets harder and harder," he lamented. "When you are on a Ferris wheel and it is running wide open all the time, it's difficult."
"The person I was becoming was not the person I wanted to be," Lawrence said. "Fame and fortune and the interstate is great and fun, but it ain't life."
He said he has taken a month off "to put my feet back on the ground."
Returning to his family in Arkansas, he said he mended some relationships and "worked some cows" while knowing he would be back on tour in February.
"Happiness and peace of mind are hard commodities to come by," he said, ignoring the ringing of a cellular telephone that he knew was luring him back to the fast track.
While he said he "desperately" would like to reconcile with his wife, his evaluation was that "we are two people moving in different directions."
They have been embroiled in a bitter divorce proceeding, but they were seen holding hands outside the courtroom before the hearing.
Although Luzaich called Lawrence's conviction on his 30th birthday "poetic justice," the singer said he doesn't mind growing older.
"I've always looked at myself as a wise old soul, but somewhere along the line I lost a piece of me, I lost my grip on reality," he said. "I've realized I need to rediscover myself."
Lawrence said it is likely the court case and his crumbling relationship will result in a song, although he admitted, "I'll need to find a way to write it with a great deal of class."
In 1991, Lawrence got his big break with the album "Sticks and Stones." Since then he has sold more than 5 million albums and has had 11 chart-topping hits.
At the time of the Primm incident, Lawrence was on tour for his latest album, "Time Marches On," which has already gone platinum with the hit songs "If You Loved Me" and "Stars Over Texas."