Tuesday, November 17, 2015

TOP STORY >> Victim’s DNA is detected in Lewis’ vehicle

Leader staff writer

Even as realtor Beverly Carter’s loved ones listened to secretly recorded interviews between police and her alleged killer during a seven-hour hearing held Monday to determine what can be used at trial, more evidence surfaced.

Chief deputy prosecutor John Johnson told Circuit Judge Herb Wright that the state Crime Lab had called earlier in the day to say hair found in the trunk of Arron Lewis’ car was a match for the 49-year-old realtor, who was abducted last year.

Carter’s body was found Sept. 27, 2014, in a shallow grave near Hwy. 5 in north Pulaski County on the property of a concrete company where Lewis had been previously employed.

The wife and mother had been reported missing a few days earlier, when she didn’t return from showing a house in Scott. Her vehicle and purse, locked inside it, were found at the scene.

The judge, after hearing about the hair, said prosecutors should check to see that there are no other pending tests related to the case. He gave both sides a week to submit a 15-page brief covering all the issues, and said he would rule on them next month.

Wright will be deciding whether a jury will hear from Lewis’ estranged wife at his trial, listen to the recordings played at the hearing and see items collected from his car and their home in Gravel Ridge.

His wife, Crystal Hope Lowery, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for 30 years behind bars for Carter’s kidnapping and first-degree murder. She has filed for a divorce from her co-defendant.

Defense attorneys are arguing that Lewis can invoke marital privilege to keep Lowery from testifying against their client.

The items seized with search warrants they claim were too broad based on what was known at the time they were executed include Carter’s phone — found inside the house at 165 Randall Drive — green duct tape, a disposable camera, a baseball bat and jewelry.

The defense had motioned for suppression of evidence from a laptop and thumb drive, but prosecutors told the judge they didn’t plan to use either.

A parade of investigators took the stand Monday to answer questions related to claims that some tapes are inadmissible because Lewis didn’t waive his rights and asked for, but was not provided with, an attorney during the interrogation.

The investigators also spoke of how the Gravel Ridge home was placed under surveillance when texts and calls to the victim, according to her phone records, were traced to Lowery’s account with a cell phone application that allows people to call or text others using a number other than their own.

Lewis was followed from the home because he and the car he was driving matched neighbors’ descriptions of a man and vehicle seen at the house in Scott.

He crashed into a ditch — Lewis says in the tapes that this was when his plans were foiled — and left the hospital before being arrested, according to officers’ testimony. The cell phone used to contact Carter was found on Lewis and seized by an investigator.

The recordings were made without Lewis’ knowledge because, according to law enforcement, he said he would speak to them without a lawyer only if he weren’t taped.

Those in the courtroom for the hearing also heard Lewis telling officers he would confess to Carter’s kidnapping if the case went to a federal court, instead of a state court.

The accused told an investigator at one point, “I know I’m (expletive) right now but I’m going to get (same expletive) the way I want to get (same expletive).”

On the tapes, he asks an FBI agent what he could have done that would be a federal offense.

The accused also says in the recordings that he’s going away for a long time and had “struggled for chances” as a seven-time felon.

Lewis can be heard telling an investigator that his wife didn’t know the type of person he was and that he doesn’t have a “spectrum of what I will or won’t do.”

The accused wondered aloud, in the recordings, whether he has a conscience.

Lewis could be heard saying over and over that time was running out for the victim, at one point stating, “keep killing time; you’re killing her.”

He also insisted that he committed the crime for money, intending to hold Carter for ransom. But the accused added that he would get something out of the kidnapping that “went bad” — “a hot second of fame” and a media “extravaganza.”

Also, during the interviews, he played for deputies a recording of the victim meant for her husband. She says, “Carl, it’s Beverly. I just want to let you know I’m OK. I haven’t been hurt. Just do what he says, and please don’t call the police. If you call the police, it could be bad. Just want you to know that I love you very much.”

Lewis testified at the end of the hearing that sheriff’s deputies beat him up in the bathroom after escorting him there during the interrogation. It was after that he led them to two locations. Carter was not found at either place.

Defense attorneys interrupted the testimony several times with objections, asking that the scope of questions be limited.

But the judge said that was his call and urged the prosecutor to continue, but to do so quickly.

Later on, he told defense attorneys, “At this point, we’re dealing more with whether or not your client’s testimony is credible at all, and that’s a determination I’ve got to make, too, and I’m making that based on his responses...”

The judge also shot down another objection after their client was asked whether he used a screwdriver to threaten individuals pursuing him just before his arrest.

Lewis said he didn’t pull a screwdriver on anyone, and replied “yes, sir” when asked if he jumped out of a second-story window during the police chase.

The defendant said he did so “because (an officer) was on the second floor and he said, ‘come here’ and I said ‘no’ and I jumped.”

Lewis had said previously he didn’t remember the route police drove after he was taken into custody because he was in shock from being arrested.

The prosecutor wanted to know why the defendant was in shock, since he knew police were looking for him. Lewis then denied that he was running from officers.

He was finally asked whether the sheriff’s department advised him of his rights, and the defendant responded, “At what point? I’m not going to give an open-ended answer.”

The judge chastised Lewis for being evasive.

Wright warned, “Your attorneys want you to stop as soon as possible” and instructed the defendant to answer each question and wait for the next one.

Lewis said in response to another question that the FBI agent advised him of his rights while sheriff’s deputies were present. He testified that, at some point but not initially, he told the agent he had asked for an attorney.

Law enforcement officials testified that Lewis was read his rights and didn’t ask for an attorney, saying only that he wouldn’t talk without one unless he were not recorded.

They said he refused to sign a statement acknowledging his rights but did so verbally, although it wasn’t taped because — at first — they were in a room with a video monitor that didn’t have the ability to record.

Also, the judge was told early in the hearing that prosecutors planned to present Lewis’ criminal background of scamming people and thievery, to establish money as his motive for Carter’s kidnapping and murder.