Juries around the country have repeatedly concluded high-profile capital cases with life sentences. In early August, a Colorado jury could not agree on the death penalty in the 6-month trial of James Holmes for the murder of 12 people in a movie theater (9-3 in favor of the death penalty), Christopher Monfort’s jury agreed that he should not receive death in the murder of a police officer in Washington, and Joseph McEnroe was spared by his jury in the murder of 6 people in May.
A Colorado jury couldn’t decide whether to sentence Dexter Lewis to death or life in prison (estimated 11 – 1 in favor of death). At least one member of the jury, 10 women and 2 men, found that Lewis deserved mercy. Denver District Judge John Madden IV sentenced Dexter Lewis, 25, in the stabbing deaths of 5 people in a Denver bar in 2012 to life in prison without parole. The jury determined that the aggravating factors did not outweigh the mitigating factors, including extensive history of abuse and neglect in his upbringing, chronic alcoholism of his mother while she was pregnant with him, and constant violence in the home. The defense also presented the long-term mental effects of severe child abuse. In addition, his father, a member of the Crips, was killed when he was young in a gang-related incident. As he grew up, he would hear his stepfather rape his stepmother and see him beat her. Lewis’ mother testified that she often hit her son with a closed fist.
“Some may think this is an excuse,” his defense attorney said, “but which of these life stories would anyone take as their own?”
Baumann showed the jury photos of Lewis when he was little to demonstrate the fact that abused children often appear to be the same as loved children. The photos were of him smiling with other children at a summer barbeque, he told the jury, that in a few hours, his mother or stepfather would beat him. No one would help him. This repeated throughout his entire life. A childhood of violence. The prosecution recounted each victim’s autopsy photos before the jury.
“What could possibly mitigate that?”
Morales recounted all of Lewis’ roles in life, artist, musician, “killer”, Morales said.
“You can add up the stab wounds. You can add up the pints of blood.”
The victims in the case were:
- Ross Richter, 29, of Kansas, who was working as a river ranger for the Bureau of Land Management.
- Kelline Fallon, 45, who was called “crazy Kelly” because she was a comedian. A regular of the bar, she often stayed at a local motel and did odd jobs.
- Tereasa Beesley, 45, grew up in Montana and recently bought the Maxim Lounge a short distance from Fero’s Bar. She leaves behind two children, a daughter, 15, and a son, 20.
- Young Suk Fero, 63, was the owner of the bar.
- Daria “Dasha” Pohl, 22, worked at the Holiday Inn near the bar. She was a sophomore at the Metropolitan State University of Denver and planned to pursue a business career.
After the sentence, prosecutor Joe Morales said that the verdict was a “great day for justice” and that no one should question the decision.
“If you cannot get 12 people to agree beyond a reasonable doubt that a person should lose their life for their crimes, then it should not be imposed…. No criticism [of the verdict] needs to come from anyone who did not sit day in and day out in that courtroom. Period.”
“Nobody is walking away a winner or loser today,” chief deputy district attorney Joe Morales said after the verdict was read. “There are no winners in these cases.”
No Denver jury has sentenced a defendant to death in almost 30 years. In fact, in the state of Colorado, no jury has sentenced a defendant to death in the last 6 years.
The verdict in the Lewis case came almost 3 years after Lewis joined in a robbery that quickly went wrong. The other men involved have already been sentenced. Joseph and Lynell Hill, who planned the robbery before Lewis joined them, accepted plea agreements. Joseph Hill was sentenced to life in prison without parole because he violated his plea agreement by refusing to testify in the case of Lewis. He has stated his intent to withdraw his guilty plea. Lynell Hill was sentenced to 70 years in prison in exchange for testimony against Lewis. He testified that it was Lewis who killed all 5 people. Demarea Harris, who also testified at the trial, was a confidential informant for the ATF at the time and reported the crime to his handlers a few hours later. He was never charged.
In the Lewis case unlike the Holmes case, jurors did not make it past the aggravating phase. Lewis was convicted on August 10th of 5 counts of 1st degree murder. The jurors quickly completed the 1st phase of the sentencing finding that the crime was heinous. But, jurors couldn’t get past whether the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors.
- Death Penalty Information Center
- Denver Post Article by Jordan Steffen and Matthew Nussbaum (8/28/2015)
- Denver Post Video
- ABC News Article by Sadie Gurman (8/27/2015)
- James Holmes Sentencing (DPIC)
- Seattle Times Article by Jennifer Sullivan and Steve Miletich (5/13/2015)
- Seattle Times Article 2 by Sara Jean Green (7/23/2015)
- Death Penalty Trends (Amnesty International)
The Death Penalty Becomes Rare (The Atlantic)
- Time Magazine/DPIC
- Dallas News Article by Steve Blow (5/8/2015)
- Frontline on PBS