Friday, January 15, 2016

TOP STORY >> Life without parole for Lewis

Leader staff writer

Arron Lewis received two life sentences in state prison on Friday, one without parole, for the capital murder and kidnapping of beloved realtor Beverly Carter, who was killed in late 2013.

The jurors delivered guilty verdicts, reached unanimously, after an hour of deliberation. The death penalty was taken off the table at the victim’s family’s request.

They didn’t buy the killer’s affidavit stating that she accidently died while engaged in a sex act with his wife and accomplice, Crystal Lowery, who admitted on the stand to being involved in prostitution. She also said she was offended by the explicit account published on her husband’s Facebook page in November 2015.

Prosecutor John Johnson, in closing, called Lewis “cowardly” for suffocating Carter by wrapping her face six times in bright green duct tape. In opening statements, the tape was deemed a “mask of death.”

The state medical examiner agreed it was placed on the victim while she was alive — based on her pallor and insect activity — and caused her death. He called the other alleged cause theoretically possible but highly improbable because he’d never seen it and couldn’t find a case of it using a medical research website.

Johnson also called Lewis a “predator” and “woman hater” at the end of the four-day trial.

The victim’s eldest son, Carl Carter, Jr., spoke before the sentencing. He said his mother was a successful woman with “an obnoxious laugh that I got that would fill up the room.” Earlier, he testified that she attended a Pentecostal church with family every Sunday.

Carter said, at sentencing, that his mother deeply loved her husband of 30 years. He noted her devotion first to her children, then her grandchildren. Carter joked that her kids didn’t matter to her once the grandkids came along.

Choking back tears, but smiling at the memories, the victim’s son told jurors about how she taught her grandkids to tie their shoes, ride bikes and eat a whole box of Little Debbie snack cakes. He chuckled at the last lesson.

“There’s a hole that can’t be replaced...This world is a darker place without her,” Carter said before leaving the stand.

After Lewis was sentenced, Beverly Carter’s family and friends — tears in their eyes — hugged each other in the Little Rock courtroom. At least one said, “God is good.”

Carter was discovered several days after she was kidnapped from a house in Scott in September 2013.

The most damning piece of evidence was a recording of the victim Lewis played from his phone for detectives while being interrogated and before her body was found in a shallow grave at the Argos concrete company off Hwy. 5 in Pulaski County near Cabot, where he used to work.

Several times, jurors heard her say, “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.” Carl Carter Jr. identified his mother’s voice on the tape.

Lewis was the last to testify in the proceedings and took the stand for hours on Friday. He didn’t express remorse for what happened or offer condolences, which the defense attorney did each time a victim’s family member or friend testified.

The cross-examination by Johnson was a heated exchange, with the killer calling himself of “athletic” build and “superior intelligence.”

Lewis claimed he used a computer program to make the recording after Carter’s death to see if he could get a moneymaking angle out of it, but Lewis couldn’t name the program when asked to do so.

He said he taped the realtor’s face after she was dead because he had a thing about bugs and wanted to keep the grasshoppers off it. Lewis also testified that he taped the victim’s wrists behind her because the corpse “wouldn’t stay in the hole.”

Lewis spoke while gesturing with his hands about how the victim was disposed of and told the prosecutor he didn’t remember the position of Carter’s body when he was taping her face.

In opening statements, jurors learned that Lewis said the victim was alive when she wasn’t and lead investigators on a “wild goose chase” to places he told them she was being held.

The cops on that ride testified that Lewis confessed to some details, such as telling Carter before using a taser to kidnap her, “You’re about to have a bad day.” The defense disputed the statements because they weren’t recorded.

Lewis’ wife testified that he sent her a picture of victim bound with tape, which she deleted.

Prosecutors pointed out that he told police and the media several conflicting stories. They included an accomplice called Trevor who killed her and that Carter was targeted because she was a “rich broker.” He also claimed he had an affair with the victim and she was killed at the concrete plant but it was an accident.

He also claimed wanted to plead guilty but lawyers told him not to. The prosecutor asked, by publishing his affidavit, if Lewis wanted to humiliate his wife and Carter and get revenge on the world. He denied both allegations.

They also argued over whether the victim was in too much pain from her tummy tuck and breast reduction surgeries to have the kind of sex the killer’s affidavit claimed he and Carter had. No semen was found on her body, a State Crime Lab worker testified.

Her husband had taken the stand earlier Friday, saying his wife — the night before she was taken — still needed a stool he built to get in and out of their bed. He also said, “I loved her with all my heart.”

Scarring around Carter’s breasts were described in the explicit affidavit posted by an outside firm at Lewis’ request while he was incarcerated.

Prosecutors pointed out, though, that he didn’t write about a hip-to-hip scar or the fact that she was wearing a band around her abdomen designed to facilitate healing from the recent surgeries, continuing to poke holes in his inflammatory affidavit posted on Facebook.

Lewis denied copying the autopsy report the attorney said he had access to.

The killer also told the jurors about his many prior felonies involving thefts and Ponzi schemes. He said he fell into the wrong crowd as a teenager.

Lewis claimed he wanted better for Lowery and tried to protect her by lying about what happened.

He said he distrusts the justice system and didn’t think anyone would believe someone with a rap sheet like his. “I’ve got so many felonies, it’s not even funny...I’m a hopeless case, a career criminal,” he said.

Prosecutors said Lewis and his wife planned to take for ransom a married woman who worked alone, settling on a real estate broker as their target.

Lowery, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and kidnapping in exchange for 30 years, testified as part of that deal. She said Lewis found the victim via an online search.

The couple communicated with Carter by texts, calls and one email, asking her to show them houses and offering a cash sale. The defense said there was no kidnapping and Carter met the two for a hookup, but investigators testified that they found no photos or hookup websites in the search history on the victim’s computer. Also, prosecutors noted, she left her purse in her car at the Scott home.

The killers used Text Me, a phone application that allows users to hide their phone numbers by giving them a fake one. But investigators traced the fake number to Lowery. The email was also traced, to their address, 165 Randall Drive in Gravel Ridge.

Lowery testified that she agreed to participate in the kidnapping to help Lewis get money so he could leave her house. She said they planned it for two weeks, and he staked out houses in west Little Rock but decided against kidnapping anyone there.

Lowery also said they got Carter’s pin number after learning she didn’t have the money to pay a $100,000 ransom Lewis had hoped for. He drove back to the Scott house to get the victim’s card out of her purse while his wife watched Carter with a taser. “I wanted her gone,” Lowery said, after finding out police were looking for the realtor. The victim was murdered because they didn’t want to get caught, she testified.

Lowery agreed that she had no excuse for not calling police, releasing Carter or telling Lewis not to kill her. She also said she held the flashlight as the victim was buried and her husband said he wasn’t “(expletive) up about” committing the murder.

Lowery testified that she didn’t know what portion of the ransom she would receive. She tried to be as uninvolved as possible and he was the “leader” who made plans that weren’t “thought out.” The defense said Lowery pleaded guilty because she was afraid she wouldn’t get a fair trial with all the publicity.