Thursday, January 14, 2016

Arron Lewis trial, day two

Posted By on Thu, Jan 14, 2016 at 7:54 PM

click to enlarge OUTSIDE THE COURTROOM: Crystal Lowery. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • OUTSIDE THE COURTROOM: Crystal Lowery.
The prosecution continues building its case against Arron Lewis today for the abduction and slaying of realtor Beverly Carter in what they say was a ransom scheme gone bad.

After several hours of introduction of statements by Lewis and others that implicate him in the crime, the prosecution called his estranged wife, Crystal Lowery, to the stand.

The defense had said she'd repudiate her deal to plead guilty and implicate Lewis. Didn't happen in the early going.

She says she plotted with Lewis, whom she'd met on Craigslist, to kidnap Carter for ransom and then killed Carter when she had no money because they didn't want to get caught. She testified, tearfully at times, that Lewis choked Carter to death. Lowery is serving a 30-year sentence for her plea to murder in the case.

Lowery admitted she could have called police while left alone with Carter while she was still alive. She said Lewis gave her an electronic shocking device to use to prevent an escape. Lowery also disputed the defense attorney's suggestion that Carter had met Lewis and Lowery for a sexual assignation. If the death was an accident, as Lewis will argue, she said she wouldn't have pleaded guilty to murder.

I'm counting on David Koon for a wrapup later in the day.



The screen, four feet by four feet, where prosecutors John Johnson and Barbara Mariani projected their photo exhibits throughout the second day of the trial of Arron Lewis sat against the rail of the courtroom with its black back to the gallery. Even with the blackout cloth backing, the images projected there for the jury showed through all day, ghostly: the elbow and fingers jutting up from the ground, the soil covered body of Beverly Carter when they dug her from a hole near the Argos cement plant near Cabot, finally her face and head, wrapped six times around with duct tape, so tightly that a medical examiner would testify after dusk that the tape had constricted blood to her face enough before it killed her that the skin had turned white. From the gallery, Carter's friends and family stared into the vague shapes revealed by that black mirror all day. 

Lewis, wearing a blue polo shirt, showed little emotion, sometimes eating candy while the jury looked at autopsy photos. The earliest testimony today came from Pulaski County Sheriff's Department investigators, including Michael Hendrix, who told the jury that while he was transporting Lewis to two sites where Lewis said Carter was being held — sites which turned out to be wild goose chases, Lewis, Hendricks, said, "went into great detail" about the kidnapping, including how he had lured Carter to the house near Scott and then threatened her with a taser to make her comply, allegedly telling Carter "she was about to have a bad day... she was about to be kidnapped." Hendrix said Lewis said he had duct-taped Carter's hands and mouth before placing her into the trunk of his car. The motive, Lewis allegedly told Hendrix, was to ransom carter for $100,000. 

To counter Lewis' claims that Carter had met Lewis and his wife Crystal Lowery for sex, prosecutors asked the investigator multiple times whether the forensic examination of Carter's computer turned up any evidence that she frequented dating or "hook up" sites. He said that there was no evidence of that, and no evidence that Carter had deleted her search history or computer cache. Most of the websites she visited, an investigator who testified said, were related to diet and weight loss or her work as a realtor. 

Next, Lieutenant J.P. Massiet with the Sheriff's Office spoke of the discovery of the body, describing how investigators had probed the earth in a wooded area near Argos concrete with metal rods, planting flags any time he found what he described as "a freshly dug area" until he'd outlined the shallow grave. In the gallery, Carter's son, Carl, Jr., audibly wept at times as Massiet described the site, Carter blotting his eyes with a handkerchief. Massiet said that a partially-used roll of green duct tape was recovered from near the grave, and that Carter's elbow and the fingers of one hand jutted above the soil, as seen in a photo projected for the jury. After the dirt was removed, Carter was found with her hands taped behind her back, clothed other than her blouse, with her head tightly wrapped in what was variously called a "mask" or "gag" of green duct tape that covered her face from hairline to chin. 

After Massiet, Shannon Miller, a reporter for KARK/Fox 16 was called to the stand, to answer questions about video footage in which Lewis, being led in shackles while in custody, answered a reporter's question "Why Beverly?" with "She was a rich broker," and a later, jailhouse interview in which Lewis said that Carter's death was an accident that happened while Lewis was cheating on his wife, Crystal Lowery, with Beverly Carter.On cross, defense attorney Bill James would later ask Miller multiple times to admit that Lewis never said he killed Beverly Carter, only that Lewis had said there was an accident. After being told by Miller that she feels she's there to get the subject's side of the story, James asked her multiple times "So you're a tape roller?" with Miller refusing to admit that was the case.

Next, prosecutor John Johnson read into the record a long affidavit written by Arron Lewis and posted to his public Facebook page by a third party service after Lewis had been arrested. In the affidavit, Lewis said that he and Lowery were swingers, who met Carter online before arranging to meet her secretly in Scott so they could have three-way sex. In the affidavit, Lewis alleged that after he and Carter had sex, he left her with Lowery to go get Carter's pills from her car in Scott, only to find the house where they'd left the car crawling with police. Lewis said that he then received a text from Lowery telling him "GET HOME NOW." When he arrived home, Lewis said in the affidavit, he found Carter dead on the bed, having been suffocated during oral sex with Lowery. Panicking, the affidavit said, they later buried her body near the cement plant, with Lewis saying he put tape over Carter's face because he couldn't find a bag to keep insects off Carter's face as he dug the grave.

After the affidavit was read into the record, Lewis' wife Crystal Lowery took the stand and refuted every point. Currently serving a 30 year sentence at McPherson Unit in Newport after a July 2015 plea agreement with prosecutors in exchange for her testimony, Lowery arrived in court wearing a blue jumpsuit and large black glasses, and was never more than two feet from an armed deputy.      

Under questioning by Mariani, Lowery — showing little emotion — said at the time of the kidnapping and murder, she and her husband of one year were having trouble because of his infidelity, and she wanted him out of the house. She was in nursing school at the time, she said, and agreed to the kidnapping for ransom so Lewis would have the money to leave. They discussed the crime for two weeks, Lowery said, discussing that they should target "somebody who worked alone," "somebody who was financially stable" and married.  

In one instance, Lowery testified, she dropped Lewis off outside a gated community in West Little Rock, with Lewis slipping inside and secretly watching a home where he'd once helped install a swimming pool, Lewis observing the comings and goings of the family who lived there for a whole day from nearby woods, trying to figure out their schedules in order to know when it would be the best time to move in and kidnap the woman of the house. Lewis later decided there were too many security cameras on the house and moved on, but texts allegedly exchanged during this time between Lewis and Lowery have Lewis saying "I'm so ready to do this. I love the adrenaline" with Lowery replying that she was ready for him to produce results.

After the plan to kidnap a woman in West Little Rock fell through, they settled on luring a woman who worked alone to a secluded location, with Lowery saying they discussed cosmetics salespeople and mail carriers before settling on real estate agents, Lowery said. Lowery said Lewis found Carter's information online, then looked up Carter's Facebook page to get more information about her, settling on her when they saw that one public photo included her with her husband. Lowery said they later looked at her realtor page and found that she was someone who had sold a lot of houses, which they hoped would translate into her being well-off. The plan, Lowery said, was to keep Carter at the Argos plant until the ransom was paid, though she later admitted the plan wasn't very well thought out and that they really hadn't planned how to hold Carter securely and in secret. Lowery said that Lewis went to the house on Old River Road near Scott alone, and later forwarded her a photo of Carter, her hands bound behind her with tape on her mouth, in the trunk of his car.

Lewis, Lowery testified, brought Carter to their house on  Jacksonville after the kidnapping. At one point, Lowery said, Carter was locked in a bathroom while Lewis went to retrieve Carter's purse, only to return with the news that the house on Old River Road was crawling with police. Lowery said that Carter never tried to run or escape, and never saw Lowery's face to her knowledge. Once Lewis returned, however, Lowery said that he told her "we need to take her out of the house and take care of things." Testimony about that led to Mariani asking why Lowery didn't stop the murder.

"I wanted her gone," Lowery told Mariani.

"Permanently gone?" Mariani asked.   

"Yes," Lowery said.

Lowery later testified that she went through with allowing Lewis to kill Carter because she became convinced that there was a chance Carter had seen a pill bottle with Lowery's name on it. Lowery said that Lewis took Carter out of the house alive, and killed her elsewhere. Texts shown to the jury show Lewis at one point texting her "Are you sure you want me to do this?" and Lowery texting back "Do whatever you want." Later, after Lewis returned, Lowery said, Lewis told her he's wasn't "fucked up" about the killing, "because I don't have a conscience. I can turn it on and off like a switch." 

Lowery said that Lewis later asked her to go to the Argos cement plant to hold a flashlight while he buried Carter's body in a shallow grave there, with Lewis stopping at a Walmart — as seen in surveillance photos later shown to the jury — to buy a shovel and two bags of topsoil. After burying the already-decomposing body, which Lewis had left in the woods, the two went to Waffle House, got food, and took it home to eat. 

Lowery later testified that all the things stipulated in Lewis' affidavit about Carter, including that Carter had contacted them for anonymous sex, were false. Lowery said that she still has feelings for Lewis, with the foundations of their relationship "based on sex, not on love or emotions."

On cross, defense attorney James repeatedly asked Lowery about the plan, and how she thought it could have possibly played out without them killing Carter to conceal their identities. "We didn't discuss how it was going to end," Lowery said. "I didn't think that far ahead." James later showed Lowery a letter to Lewis, in which she told her husband that she'd taken the plea deal because she was afraid she couldn't get a fair trial, and because her lawyers (not James at the time) had allegedly "scared her into pleading guilty." Lowery repeatedly said that the handwriting in the letter didn't look like her own, suggesting the letter might have been reworded, before finally admitting that it was, in fact, her letter. James asked Lowery about Lewis' love of attention, which he characterized as "like a little kid," which Lowery confirmed, saying that could have been a reason why Lewis talked repeatedly to the press in the lead up to the trial. 


The last hours of today's action belonged to employees of the Arkansas State Crime Lab, with trace evidence expert Chantelle Taylor describing the tape wrapping around Carter's head in great detail, saying that it consisted of six wraps around, followed by eight shorter pieces placed one after the other over the whole face.

Last up was Dr. Charles Kokes, the state's chief medical examiner. Under questioning from John Johnson, Kokes described the condition of Carter's body and clothing at the time of autopsy, saying that an antidepressant was the only drug found in her system. Johnson and Kokes had a long discussion about the maggots seen on the body in photos as pale off-white dots, with Kokes saying they indicate that Carter's body had been above ground for some time before she was buried. Kokes pointed out that once the tape was removed from Carter's face and head, there was no maggot infestation in the nostrils or eyes, suggesting that Carter's head was wrapped at the time of her death.  Asked about the tightness of the tape wrapping, Kokes said the tape around Carter's head was "certainly very tight at the time of my examination," bound so tightly that he couldn't get a finger between the skin and tape. Once the tape was removed, Kokes said, there was a paleness to many parts of Carter's face "caused by blood constriction." 

Asked if he suspected a cause of death, Kokes indicated a photo of Carter's bound head projected on the screen in front of the jury box and said "You're looking at the cause of death right here," later clarified as suffocation, caused by the tape being tightly applied over Carter's airways, which would have caused unconsciousness in less than a minute. Kokes would later say that Carter was "definitely alive" when the tape was applied. 

Johnson asked Kokes if he had considered that Carter was suffocated during a sex act, as suggested in Lewis' affidavit. Kokes said that while he would term that scenario as "theoretically possible," he added that in 30 years of practice, he'd never seen a death caused from that, and could not find any cases of death by suffocation during oral sex in medical literature. Kokes said that once the victim began experiencing what he called "air hunger," they would exhibit considerable strength to get away from what was suffocating them. Under cross by James, Kokes defended the idea that Carter's death was caused by the tape, saying it is the only part of the investigation that explains her death. 

After Kokes left the stand, the prosecution rested at 6:05. The trial will continue tomorrow at 8:30 a.m., with the defense.

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