Jordan Bontke via Twitter
After deliberating for about an hour this afternoon, a jury found Arron Lewis
guilty of capital murder and kidnapping in the death of real estate agent Beverly Carter
David Koon has been in the courtroom today and will have more shortly.
UPDATE FROM DAVID KOON:
It is tempting, in the wake of a terrible crime, to talk about "monsters" — in this case, to say that Arron Lewis and his wife Crystal Lowery were two monsters who found each other in the dark, then later conspired to end the life of Beverly Carter. In the end, though, Lewis and Lowery turned out to not be monsters at all. Instead, they're just the product of what it often turns out to be when someone kills another for gain: a stew of fear, ego and greed that, in this case, resulted in a wife, mother, grandmother and friend losing her life. For that crime, Lowery will be in prison until she's old and gray, if she lives that long. Today, a jury found Arron Lewis guilty as well, and decided that the only way he'll ever leave prison is when he's carried out in a hearse. To call Lowery and Lewis monsters is to flatten the roundness of evil.
Yesterday's testimony featured Lowery refuting her husband's graphic account of Beverly Carter being a woman looking for anonymous sex who was suffocated during oral sex gone wrong. Today, the jury found Arron Lewis guilty of capital murder and kidnapping, with the jury deliberating less than an hour before finding him guilty. He will spend the rest of his life in prison, without the possibility of parole. Lowery, meanwhile — who told the jury yesterday that she allowed her husband to kill Carter once they found out the kidnapping target they hoped would net them $100,000 in ransom actually had no money — plead guilty in July 2015 in exchange for her testimony against Lewis. She is currently serving 30 years.
Fallible and running late, your correspondent found himself locked out of the courtroom this morning when defense attorney Bill James put defendant Arron Lewis on the stand. Lewis was still on the stand at the first break at 10 a.m., however, as prosecutor John Johnson continued his cross examination of Lewis. Johnson began with the affidavit Lewis had posted to his public Facebook page in Oct. 2015, which painted Beverly Carter as a lonely older woman looking for anonymous sex with Lewis and Lowery. In that affidavit, Lewis said Carter had died while alone with Lowery, suffocated by a sex act gone wrong. Lewis said again today that the affidavit was all true.
Johnson noted Lewis' prior felonies, including a string of theft and theft by receiving charges, with Johnson noting that all the charges had to do with stealing from others. "You're able to work, but you choose instead to steal from people," Johnson said. Lewis responded that when he was laid off or couldn't find a job "I make money the only way I know how."
Referring to the affidavit, Johnson noted that at the time the affidavit was written, Lewis was in possession of over 1,000 pages of discovery that was to be used in preparation for the trial, including the autopsy report and investigative file, with Johnson repeatedly suggesting that Lewis mined the file for details to include in the affidavit to make it appear he'd actually met Beverly Carter for sex. "It's all a string of lies," Johnson asked Lewis, "Isn't it?"
"It's all true," Lewis said.
Later, Johnson questioned Lewis on why he ran from police if he was not guilty of the kidnapping and murder of Carter, with Lewis replying that he always runs from police, and had rammed cop cars before while trying to evade police on other minor charges because he doesn't want to be apprehended. "If the police say stop," Lewis said, "I'm running." Johnson bristled when Lewis laughed as Johnson spoke of Lewis jumping from a second story window to evade police just prior to his capture in the Carter case. "What's funny?" Johnson asked him.
Discussing Lewis burying Carter at the Argos cement plant near Cabot, Johnson asked Lewis why he taped her arms if she was already dead, with Lewis saying that he taped her arms because the hole he'd dug was too wide. "Her arm wouldn't stay in the hole," Lewis said. "There wasn't enough room." Johnson later asked if that was the case, and that Carter was already dead by accidental suffocation when the tape was applied, why were two loops of tape needed around her wrists? Lewis was allowed to stand to demonstrate, saying that Carter's body was stiff, with her arms at her sides, and sprang out when he tried to put her into the hole. Lewis also stuck to the account in the affidavit to say that the tape over Carter's face wasn't meant to suffocate, only to keep bugs — which he described as "little grasshoppers" — off her face after he couldn't find a bag to cover her head. "She was dead," Lewis said. "I didn't consider whether it was too tight or not." Lewis then refuted Johnson's suggestion that Carter was alive at the time the tape was applied, with Johnson later saying "You're too big a coward to kill her," meaning with a method other than suffocation.
Soon, Johnson moved on to the issue of Carter's clothes at the time her body was found, which — according to yesterday's testimony from state medical examiner Charles Kokes — consisted of shorts, panties, a bra, and an elastic girdle used to hold the abdomen in place for healing following a "tummy tuck" procedure. According to Kokes, other than Carter's blouse, which was off, her clothes were properly fastened and buttoned, and didn't appear to have been removed between the time of her death and when she was buried. The autopsy also found feces in Carter's underwear. In Lewis' affidavit, Lewis said Carter was totally naked when she accidentally died, with Lewis holding Carter up while Lowery reclothed her. Lewis stuck to that account today. Johnson noted that two things not mentioned in Lewis' affidavit was the elastic girdle, which covered Carter from the bottom of her bra to her waist, and a long surgical scar from hip to hip. Lewis said he hadn't mentioned them because those things "didn't stick in my memory." Asked why, if Carter died the way Lewis said she did, he and Lowery clothed her before Lewis dumped her body at Argos, Lewis said: "You don't take a body naked and stick it in the back of a car." Johnson noted that Carter, at the time of her death, weighed 171 pounds and questioned how Lewis could have held her up alone long enough for Lewis to put her clothes on perfectly. Johnson then inquired at what point Lowery picked up the feces from the bed and put it in Carter's underpants, where it was found during the autopsy. Lewis suggested that the feces in Carter's underpants must have came out while she was being taken to Argos. "She was clothed when she died," Johnson said, with Lewis saying that she wasn't.
Johnson then moved on to a recording found on Lewis's phone in which a woman who family members had previously identified as Beverly Carter told Carl Carter to "just do what he says" and to not call the police. Lewis said that the voice on the recording wasn't actually Carter, saying that he had altered the voice on the recording to sound like Carter, with Johnson asking if he'd conducted a "talent search" to find a voice match. Pressed for details, Lewis said he created the voice using computer software, mentioning the way the voices of Alvin and the Chipmunks are altered, before adding "You can find how to do everything on Youtube." Later, Lewis was not able to name the software he'd used to create the recording.
After lunch, Johnson came back to Lewis again, asking him if the affidavit, full of what Johnson termed "awful details" about Lowery and Carter having sex, was revenge against Lowery and everybody else involved because she had agreed to testify against him. Lewis denied that it was about revenge, repeating again that it was a true account. Johnson noted that in the affidavit, Lewis mentioned having sex with Carter in what Johnson termed "gymnastic positions," before asking Lewis if, at the time he wrote the affidavit, he knew that Carter's abdomen surgery had left her torso so tender and weak at the time of her murder that she needed a step stool to climb into bed.
"She did not look like she was in any pain whatsoever," Lewis said, referring to the alleged sex he'd had with Carter. Johnson then asked Lewis if he thought Carter's weakened state was part of the reason he was able to overpower and kidnap her. Lewis stuck to his guns, saying he didn't kidnap Carter.
"Did she stand a chance to defend herself?" Johnson asked.
"There was no defense," Lewis said.
"You're right about that," Johnson said icily, before returning to the prosecutor's table and ending his questioning. Bill James had no further questions, and rested at 1:05 p.m.
After a break, attorneys returned for their closing statements. Prosecutor Barbara Mariani walked to the jury box and displayed a roll of green duct tape, much like the tape used to bind Carter's wrists and head. Peeling off a long strip, Mariani said the sound was the last thing Beverly Carter ever heard. Displaying the sticky back of the tape for the jury, she said that was the last thing Beverly Carter ever saw. "Duct tape," Mariani said, "is a deadly weapon."
Mariani walked the jury through the jury instructions and verdict forms, projected on a screen. Later, she spoke of Lewis' affidavit, which she said was an "absurd, pornographic, misogynistic fantasy spewed out by [Lewis] to cause the most pain and suffering to all involved." Mariani displayed a photo of Carter for the jury, then an autopsy photo, saying "that's what he did to her." Mariani closed by warning the jury that the defense closing might be "victim bashing," before saying: "Only you have the power to stop this never-ending victimization with a single word: guilty."
Defense attorney Bill James rose for his closing, noting that when investigators began looking into Carter's disappearance, they questioned her friends and family about topics including her marriage, possible drug use, her health and other topics. James noted that at the time of her death, Carter was three months behind on her mortgage, had bought a Cadillac, and had undergone two cosmetic surgeries, painting those as bad decisions that could indicate Carter was capable of making other bad decisions.
James said that there were facets of the case that were either ignored or not emphasized by investigators during the investigation, including Carter telling a friend that she received the referral on the Old River Road property from a friend of hers. The identity of who referred her to Lewis and Lowery was never uncovered by investigators. "We're picking and choosing the facts that we make known to the courts and the prosecutors," James said. James later suggested that Lewis' statements to the press were Lewis' attempt to protect Lowery, who plead guilty because she believed she couldn't get a fair trial. "This guy [Lewis], for lack of a better word, a clown, is yelling things to the press in an attempt to help Crystal Lowery." James noted that in the letters Lewis sent to Lowery, Lewis never admitted guilt. "It's all about trying to protect themselves."
"There's reasonable doubt here, ladies and gentlemen," James told the jury, before asking them to return a verdict that's "honest and fair and follows the law" which will send a message to people like Crystal Lowery to they can get a fair trial. James finished at 2:30 p.m.
Johnson began his final closing by playing the "ransom recording" found on Lewis' phone. When it was done, he told the jury that sometimes, one piece of evidence is all that's needed. Johnson later displayed a photo of Beverly Carter's purse, which was found at the Old River Road house, locked inside her car. He said that while he didn't want to sound sexist, no woman he knew would leave her purse behind if she was willingly going somewhere. That, he said, was the beginning of the case. "This is the end," he said, displaying a photo of Carter's body, laying with her hands and head taped in her shallow grave. He said Lewis was "a fish in a hot boat," flopping and jumping around, looking for a way out. He said that with his affidavit and testimony, Lewis was "still victimizing" Carter. "They use her life as a weapon against her to drag her down to the level of him," Johnson said, indicating Lewis. Carter, Johnson said, was "the low hanging fruit" that Lewis and Lowery chose, with Johnson saying Lewis was "too big a coward to actually kill her," so he suffocated her with duct tape.
After Johnson was done, the jury retired to deliberate for less than an hour before coming back with a guilty verdict on Capital Murder and kidnapping. Capital murder is an automatic term of life in prison without parole. In the penalty phase on the kidnapping, Johnson called Carl Carter, Jr., Beverly Carter's son, to the stand. Dressed in a suit and pink bow tie, his voice breaking with emotion, Carter described a woman who had him when she was 16 but made a life for herself — always pretty, he said, with an "obnoxious laugh" and a way of saying hello that made all feel welcome. Her own children, he said with a laugh, were quickly forgotten when her grandchildren came along, with Carter teaching them to ride bikes and tie their shoes. His mother loved his father, Carl Jr. said, "ridiculously, beyond reason."
"She was never one that you had to wonder if she loved you," Carter said, adding that he can still feel her cheek the last time she kissed him goodbye.
"For the guilty to be able to drag her sweet name through the mud is awful," Carter said. They had many good years left with her, he said, adding, "this world is a darker place without her."
After a short statement by Johnson, asking them to "think about who he took, why he took her," the jury retired briefly before returning to sentence Lewis to an additional term of life in prison.