Tuesday, January 05, 2016

TOP STORY >> Hearing weighs evidence

Leader staff writer

Text messages prosecutors say show Arron Lewis and his wife, Crystal Lowery, planned to abduct a real estate broker for ransom will be used at next week’s trial, the judge ruled Tuesday.

Lewis, of Gravel Ridge, is accused of kidnapping and killing realtor Beverly Carter. His capital murder trial is Tuesday, and he recently changed his plea from not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect to a defense of general denial.

The victim’s body was found in a shallow grave Sept. 27, 2014, near Hwy. 5 in north Pulaski County on the property of a concrete company Lewis had previously worked for. Carter had been reported missing a few days earlier, when she didn’t return from showing a house in Scott.

Prosecutors read some of the text messages in court this week, which they say is evidence of the couple’s scheme to pose as homebuyers, abduct a married “rich broker” who would meet with them alone and whose husband would pay for her safe return.

In the text messages, Lewis allegedly types that one house he went to had too many cameras and “I’m so ready to do this. I love adrenaline.”

The defense had claimed the texts sent before the crime was committed shouldn’t be admissible because they were confidential communication protected by marital privilege.

But Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herbert Wright allowed the text messages because they concern the alleged planning of the crime. He also noted that they were sent close to when Carter was kidnapped. The text messages begin on the 17th, and she was taken on the 25th.

The jury will also hear a recording of the victim meant for her husband. In it, Carter 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.”

The judge denied the defense’s motion to suppress that because, he said, law enforcement had already seized the phone before Lewis played the recording from it during an interrogation.

Wright also ruled that, while evidence — such as rope and the victim’s phone — found in the defendant’s car during an inventory search is admissible, Carter’s hair and pieces of tape that were in his trunk are not.

The judge previously ordered that items found in the car were inadmissable because the warrant to search it was overly broad and violated Lewis’ Fourth Amendment rights.

But, according to the written order, the evidence is admissible if found during an inventory search of the vehicle.

Wright this week said he disagreed with the prosecution’s claim that the hair and tape would have been found anyway, had the inventory search not been halted to obtain a warrant.

Another disputed item was a webpage advertising Carter’s services as a real estate broker. The judge said it couldn’t be used at trial unless, as prosecutors say she will, Lowery testifies that Lewis searched online for someone to target.

Wright also ruled that an email prosecutors say Lewis sent to the victim is admissible.

Lewis’ attorneys had also asked that Lowery be compelled to speak with them.

But the judge, after confirming that prosecutors are not denying access, said all he could do was ask that they encourage Lowery to speak with the defense. He noted that the prosecution should share with the other side any statements.

Prosecutors said they had and had also given defense attorneys a summary of what her testimony would be, although a defense attorney balked at the idea that those two pages would cover the length of her time on the stand.

Lowery’s attorney said in court this week that his client did not wish to speak with the defense before she is cross-examined at the trial.

Wright told the defense attorneys they would have “unbridled discretion” in cross-examining Lowery.

Lewis’ estranged wife has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and kidnapping in exchange for 30 years in prison, but part of that deal was her agreeing to provide truthful testimony against her husband. She has also filed for a divorce.

The judge ruled in early December that Lowery could testify to anything she saw, heard or observed that was not a confidential communication, unless the confidential communication was made during joint criminal activity or in the presence of or disclosed to someone else.

The judge has also ruled that prosecutors can’t use some statements made to investigators or evidence found in Lewis’ home. The reasoning was that the defendant wasn’t provided an attorney after requesting one and that another overly broad search warrant violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

But still admissible is details Lewis gave to deputies while leading them to various places he said the victim had been and a comment about having “put her in a mixer.”

That was said after an investigator mentioned the Argos Concrete Plant near Cabot, where Carter’s body was found.

Any suppressed recordings of Lewis being interrogated can be reintroduced at trial if he takes the stand and what he says contradicts those statements to investigators.