That Sunday, when the verdict was announced and the screams of Glenda Lewis filled the courtroom, there was a businessman sitting in the audience. His name was Al Estes. He had come to see that one of his accounts was closed properly.
Estes was a bonding agent. Five and a half months before, on New Year's Eve, Estes had arranged for the posting of George Lewis' $300,000 bond, allowing Lewis to be released from jail while awaiting trial. In return, Lewis' family and friends had given Estes $30,000 in cash and signed over enough property — houses, jewelry, a boat — to serve as collateral for the entire amount of the bond in case Lewis fled.
As far as Estes was concerned, once the trial was over, so was the contract. That was why he went to the Polk County Courthouse that day.
He liked George. Still, he wanted to make sure there would be no misunderstandings. Lewis' family and friends would get back their property, but the $30,000 would belong to Estes' company. Whether Lewis was convicted or acquitted, there would be no refund. That was the price they'd paid to have him out until the verdict. Afterward, if they needed help in posting bond again, Estes believed they'd have to arrange a new contract and pay him more money.
Once the jury returned with its verdict, though, there was no need for a new contract. Lewis was found guilty, and Circuit Judge Crockett Farnell returned him to custody without bond. By that time, Lewis had been out on bond for 165 days, give or take a few hours. Each week of his freedom had cost about $1,271. Each day cost about $182. Every dollar had bought him just under eight minutes.
On Wednesday, June 17 — three days after the verdict — the jurors came back to the courthouse to consider Lewis' sentence. By Florida law, there were only two possibilities for someone convicted of first-degree murder. Life in prison, with no chance of parole for 25 years. Or death in the electric chair. Whichever way the jurors voted, it would be only a recommendation. The final decision would rest with Judge Farnell.
Early that Wednesday, Lewis was brought from the Polk County jail.
He had been allowed to change from his jail uniform into his street clothes. Still, he looked like a different man from the one who'd sat in this courtroom before. Two weeks ago, when the trial had begun, Lewis had shown a startling confidence, bounding up the courthouse steps, beaming for the photographers. Now he was despondent. He sat silently in a jacket and tie at the defense table, looking downward, leaning forward, hunching his shoulders together. It was as though he were made of paper and had been crushed.
Joseph Ciarciaglino, one of Lewis' lawyers, had undergone a similar transformation. A week before, in the middle of the trial, Ciarciaglino had been striding around the courthouse, plotting strategy, firing accusations and insinuations at the state's witnesses. One day, he had worn a tie pin shaped like the scales of justice. When someone asked him about it, a big grin spread across his face.
"Truth, justice and the American way," he said.
But the fire was gone now. Ciarciaglino had never had a jury come back with a first-degree murder conviction against a client. He sat motionless in his chair next to Lewis, staring into space. He didn't seem to hear what was being said around him. He barely spoke at all.
Instead, he let his partner, Robert Paver, do most of the talking. It was going to be a busy day for Paver. The defense had gathered dozens of Lewis' friends and family members to tell the jury about George's background and character. The friends and family of Karen Gregory, however, would not be testifying about Karen's background or character.
They wouldn't be saying a word, because the state was not calling them to the stand.
This was no surprise. In Florida, when a man is convicted of first-degree murder, his relatives are routinely allowed to appear before the jury during the penalty phase and explain why he deserves mercy. Yet the family of the victim is rarely given a chance to talk about the pain of that person's loss.
On Monday, June 15, just two days before the penalty phase began in the Lewis trial, the U.S. Supreme Court had given its stamp of approval to this practice. Voting 5-4, the court ruled that in potential death sentence cases, families of murder victims generally should not be allowed to inform juries about the impact of the crime on their lives.
Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. wrote that the trauma of the victim's family is "irrelevant" to the sentencing decision. Though he recognized the family's anger and grief, Powell said the jury might be inflamed into favoring the death sentence if those feelings were expressed in court. Such a decision, he said, must be "based on reason rather than caprice or emotion."
For years, that kind of logic has been a sore point among advocates of victim rights. If the family of the accused is allowed to speak, they say, why shouldn't the family of the victim? And if the goal is to erase emotion from the sentencing, shouldn't both sides be forbidden from speaking?
Through most of the Lewis trial, some of those close to Karen Gregory — including her boyfriend, David Mackey, and her sister, Kim — had been forbidden from entering the courtroom. Day after day, they'd wandered the halls of the courthouse, wondering what the jury was hearing. Now, David and Kim and the others were to be finally admitted into court. But they would have to sit there with their mouths shut as a parade of Lewis supporters took the stand to talk about George.
Pamela Hackett, a friend, said: "He seemed to be a sweet kid, you know. He was real friendly. He'd say hi to you whenever you went by."
Edwin Eggert, a high school buddy: "He enjoyed helping everybody.
He always — he was always the nice guy with a smile."
And Jan Radjeski, a fellow firefighter: "In the short time that I knew him, I knew that I could call on that man any time of day or night and he'd be there."
One by one, they sat down in the witness chair, turned toward the jury and searched for the right words to explain who Lewis was and why his life should be spared.
"Everyone loved George," one of them said.
"He was a very good father," said another.
George, the witnesses said, was also "a good worker," "an all-around good guy" and a "perfect husband" who "more or less worshiped" his wife, Glenda. In addition, he was "very loyal," "very loving," "very level-headed," "always dependable," "conscientious, polite and respectable," "never violent" and "the nicest guy." "He was always truthful with me," one person added.
Later, looking back on these comments, one of the jurors would say : "I don't know anybody that perfect."
It was obvious that the witnesses cared about Lewis. But anyone who'd sat in court for the past two weeks knew that some of what these people said did not match the trial testimony. Even if the jurors were wrong and Lewis was innocent, he had admitted on the stand that he had lied to the police, his co-workers and his family. Clearly, he was not always truthful. He had also testified that he'd seen Karen's body inside the house and then left her lying there without even checking her pulse. Clearly, he was not always dependable. As for his "worshiping" Glenda, no one needed to be reminded that he had dated a 16-year-old girl while Glenda was pregnant with the couple's first child.
At the defense table, Lewis stayed slumped in his chair, with his head lowered and tears occasionally slipping down his cheeks. When his friends came into court, he would not look at them squarely. Some of them tried to make eye contact as they walked to the witness stand, but he would not lift his face in their direction.
Dale Martin, who had been George's neighbor for years, talked about how George was always such a good friend to Martin's stepson, Kenny.
The two boys had grown up together, attending the same school, water skiing, playing with radio-controlled cars. George helped Kenny become a volunteer firefighter in Gulfport. At one point, Kenny was dating a woman of whom his parents disapproved. They asked George to "talk some sense" into him.
"So Georgie asked him which is the most important, being a Gulfport fireman or this young lady," Martin told the jurors. "And he said there's a lot more to life than this young lady. So, as a result, Kenny got away from her."
After Tiffany Lewis was born, Martin said, George used to babysit her. Glenda would be at work and he'd be off-duty, so he took care of her.
"He loved that — dearly loved — that little girl."
Neverne Covington was listening in the audience with Karen's family and other friends. Neverne was making notes on a piece of paper. When she heard Martin say those words, she wrote: Karen's mother dearly loved her "little girl."
Roy Ozmore, a fisherman who was a longtime friend of George's, told the jurors a story. One day, he said, he and George were water skiing.
Suddenly, they saw some workers at a nearby construction site throwing rocks at a sea gull. The rocks hit the bird, causing it to fall from the air. George went over to the bird, picked it up and carried it to safety, ignoring the workers who now were throwing rocks at him.
"Was that type of behavior unusual as far as George is concerned?" asked Paver.
"Not as far as George was concerned, no." Neverne Covington wrote: Save a bird but not a human?
In the two weeks of trial before the verdict, 31 witnesses were called. Now, during the single day of the penalty phase, the defense called another 31. They moved in and out of the court at a breakneck pace, each person speaking for only a few minutes. The last to testify were the members of the Lewis family, including all six of George's brothers and sisters. His sister Linda explained that Georgie — that's what she and others called him — was the youngest of the family.
"He was a wonderful little baby," she said. "I mean, he would come toddling around, and he'd have a smile on his face, and he would just be delighted just to see someone there to talk to."
Anita, another sister, said that George was "a fun persona loving person." She talked about how they used to fight with water guns until everyone was soaked. "And he just enjoyed life," she said. "He had a great time." She talked about how George built rockets for her sons and how the boys now were "very worried" about their uncle.
"Anything else you want to say to the jury?"
"No." Anita was crying. She turned toward the jurors.
"But I love him. Just don't forget that."
Milton, one of the brothers, said that George's desire to help people was the reason he had become a firefighter. George, he said, cared about "any living creatures." If George had any flaw, Milton said, it was that "he didn't hesitate to put other people first . . . he's a real human being in the truest sense, in my opinion."
James, another brother, said George was "a very kind, very loving father" and alluded to the fact that George's child, Tiffany, was playing out in the hall. "As you can well see," James said, "he has a beautiful little daughter." George, the brother added, had no temper. "There is no way that man is ever a violent person," he said.
Mary, another sister, suggested that she thought George was innocent, too. "I could never see him doing anything like this," she said.
Some jurors were tired of hearing that. They had already decided that Lewis had murdered Karen Gregory. That wasn't the issue anymore.
Yet here were these friends and family members, suggesting over and over that George could not have done such a thing. Some of them, meanwhile, were disturbed by the testimony of Carl Lewis Jr., another brother. Carl told the jurors that he'd been in the armed services in the late '60s. He kept talking about how he'd been trained to take lives.
"It's easy to take life," he said. "I know this for a fact. In the service it can be done quick."
But George, he said, was trained to save — not to take — lives. "All of his life, through school, he's never once had the idea — ever — to take anyone's life. Never had the reason for it; never had the need for it."
Carl kept going. "It takes a lot of stamina and guts to keep from killing once you've learned how to do it. If you've never learned how to do it and never tried it, okay, you can't do it."
Paver listened with a sick look on his face. He tried to change the subject. "Do you find George to be a gentle person?" he asked.
"What about George with Glenda and Tiffany?"
"Very gentle. Very gentle. Because neither one of them have any scars on them. Not a one."
"Call your next witness, sir."
"Glenda Lewis," said Paver.
When she came in the courtroom, her eyes were red. She walked hesitantly, as though she'd almost forgotten how.
"Would you tell us please about George Lewis?"
Glenda paused, then began to talk. She and George, she said, met in September 1981. They started dating, and she moved in with him a few months later. Glenda said George was her first love. He taught her to ride a motorcycle, she said. He tried to teach her to water ski, too, but she never got the hang of it.
"And then we got married," she said, "and we had — we have our baby, Tiffany."
Glenda kept stopping, swallowing, looking up at the ceiling. She was fighting not to cry. George was "a great father," she said. He was also a "terrific" husband. She said she couldn't ask for anyone else. The tears streamed down her cheeks now.
"I'm sorry," she said, rising from the witness chair to leave. "I can't say anything else."
The final witness was Evelyn Lewis, George's mother. Her youngest child, she told the jurors, had been "a beautiful boy." George always had wanted to be a firefighter. Many times, she said, he drew pictures of fire trucks and of houses burning. His own father had been a volunteer firefighter, she said.
"And he would say, 'Mom, I want to be like Dad. I want to help people like Daddy helps people,' he'd say," Mrs. Lewis remembered.
George never lost that interest, she said. One night, after he became a firefighter, he drove by the family's house in a fire truck.
"This is his life," she said.
She began to wander through her memories. She said she and her husband "loved children dearly" and had tried to raise their seven boys and girls "as decent human beings." They made sure the kids had hobbies. They taught them how to swim and to plant flowers. They took them to farms and showed them the animals.
Mrs. Lewis looked at the jurors.
"All I can say — I know he's a good boy. I know he tells the truth, because this is what my children were always taught. No matter how bad or how hard it hurts them, I want the truth out of them. Their father demanded the truth, whatever it was. And we used to have round-table discussions after supper, and"
Neverne had written down something else: What went wrong?
After all the years and all the sleepless nights, Neverne wanted to understand. She wanted to know how they had ended up in this courtroom.
How had such a horrible thing — such evil — come about? Neverne was not a religious woman. She did not believe in the devil. She had a hard time accepting that evil was some dark, supernatural force swirling under the surface of the earth. She thought it was something much more ordinary. It had to do with selfishness, she told herself. Evil was selfishness, taken to its ultimate extreme.
By the time Evelyn Lewis finished testifying, it was almost 4:45 in the afternoon. The lawyers retreated to the privacy of the judge's chambers to discuss a few final details with Farnell. A bailiff appeared at the door with a note from the jury. It said: Judge, we as a group have put in a long day, and if we will not complete today's proceeding shortly, we would appreciate a recess until tomorrow at 9 o'clock.
Gregory H. Blessing, Foreman Blessing was eager to leave at a timely hour on this day because his girlfriend was leaving town. He'd even asked the judge, a couple of days before, that they not go late this day. Now, Paver and Ciarciaglino remembered that request. A man's life was on the line, and the jury foreman was worrying about seeing his girlfriend. Ciarciaglino looked disgusted. Farnell said he wanted to press on. They were nearly finished. The only thing left was for the lawyers to deliver closing arguments and for the jurors to decide on a recommendation.
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen," said Assistant State Attorney Beverly Andrews.
Seated at the end of the first row in the jury box, Greg Blessing looked at his watch.
Quickly, Andrews summed up why the state was seeking the death sentence. The prosecution, she said, did not deny that Lewis was an able firefighter and emergency medical technician. In fact, evidence had been presented to show that he was not the kind of EMT who would have panicked at the sight of Karen lying on the floor. Nor did the prosecution deny that Lewis had many friends. But the people who had testified on his behalf, Andrews said, did not know the facts of the case. They believed in Lewis and gave him their trust, she said, and he violated it.
"He let his family and friends down," she said.
Andrews pointed at Lewis, seated at the defense table. That man, she said, was a total fraud. She asked the jurors to picture him inside the house that night, standing over Karen in the hallway, a knife in his hand. She reminded them of the agony Karen must have suffered in the last minutes of her life. And the motive behind the attack, she said, was clear: Lewis had murdered Karen to keep her quiet.
"They knew each other. They were neighbors," said Andrews. "He raped her, and then he had to eliminate her. Remember what, again, the defendant's mother said on the stand: Being a firefighter was his life.
It meant the world to him. He raped that woman and then had to kill her, because it was his life or her life."
Then it was Paver's turn to speak for the defense. He said he wanted the jurors to think about the kind of life George had led for the 22 years before the murder and then ask themselves whether that was outweighed by "a few frenzied moments." It wasn't as though he had gone on a crime spree through three counties, Paver said. It wasn't, he suggested, as though George had killed "several people."
"It's a crime which occurred in a small segment of time," he said, "and that has to be weighed against the rest of Mr. Lewis' life and his family and his friends."
It would be horrible enough, Paver said, for Lewis to spend his life in prison. He and Tiffany might never get to hold each other again. And when Glenda gave birth to their second child, he would not be there with her in the delivery room. At opposite ends of the courtroom, George and Glenda were both crying. When Paver spoke of how Glenda would deliver her second child without her husband, she stood up and left the room. Paver went on, talking about how the past would tear at Lewis day after day in prison for the rest of his life.
"And I know you will think of the witnesses that you heard here today," he said, "and you'll think of the 22 years of existence that's all been good, and I hope that you will return the correct decision and recommend to the court that George's life not end in the Florida electric chair."
There was another thing the defense had considered doing to save Lewis' life. In chambers earlier in the day, Paver had requested that the judge approve the following sentence as one of the possible arguments for mercy: The victim was a participant in the defendant's conduct or consented to the act.
"They're going to argue consent?" said Beverly Andrews.
Farnell, looking a little surprised, asked the defense attorneys if they really wanted to use that argument. "You guys want it?" he said. "You're going to be able to do this with a straight face now?"
Paver thought for a second. They were withdrawing their request, he said.
"That's what I thought," said Farnell.
Karen's mother, Sophia, was not in chambers to hear what the defense had briefly suggested. Still, it was hard enough for Sophia to hear what was said in open court. The worst — even worse than the cold details of how Karen had died — had come when Paver suggested that Lewis should be spared because only one person had been killed and because the murder was "a few frenzied moments."
When Paver spoke those words, Sophia wanted to climb over the courtroom railing and strangle him. She'd heard a lot of mean things in her life, she said, but that was the meanest. It was as though her daughter had never existed, she said. It was as though Karen had been nothing.
At 6:13 p.m. the jurors retired to choose between life and death.
This time, their decision did not have to be unanimous. A majority vote either way would be sufficient, the judge told them. If they tied, that would be regarded as a recommendation for life. There was no need, then, for more than one vote.
The jurors sat around the same table where they'd deliberated for hours the past weekend until all had agreed Lewis was guilty. For many of them, worn out emotionally by that decision, this second phase of the trial had been a frustrating experience. Several jurors could not understand why they did not hear a single word of testimony about Karen Gregory. Among those who felt this way was Ruth Wunder. She had been among the last jurors to be convinced that Lewis was guilty. But she thought it made no sense that they had not been told anything about the woman whose death had started this case. She wanted to know more about Karen. What kind of person was she? Why had she never had children?
What did she look like? The jurors had never seen a picture of Karen when she was alive. They had been allowed to see her only as a corpse.
Yet there seemed to be little disagreement among the jurors as to which sentence they should recommend. Despite the brutality of this crime, they noted that Lewis had never been arrested before and had led, as far as they knew, a good life until the murder. After all, he'd been a dedicated firefighter and EMT. Furthermore, life in prison hardly seemed a lenient punishment.
Maytha Schafer, another juror, had another reason for preferring a life sentence. She remembered how her husband had warned her, earlier on, that whatever decision they made would be overturned on appeal.
Schafer didn't want to think that the past two weeks had been in vain.
But she thought that possibility was more likely if Lewis was sentenced to death. If they voted for life, she told herself, maybe they wouldn't have to worry about those appeals.
The jurors talked for almost an hour. Then Greg Blessing suggested they take a vote. Write down an "L" for life, he said, or a "D" for death.
The buzzer sounded from inside the jury room at 7:05 p.m. The judge and the lawyers and the families returned to the courtroom. The jurors were brought in. The foreman handed over the recommendation form, and the clerk read it aloud.
By a vote of 12 to 0, the clerk said, the jury advised and recommended that the court impose the sentence of life imprisonment upon George A. Lewis, without possibility of parole for 25 years.
"All right!" someone cried.
Lewis lowered his head and nodded.
Judge Farnell turned to the jurors. He said he knew how hard this case had been, both mentally and physically. But he said he hoped that they could find some reward in knowing that they'd served their country. Without citizens such as they, he said, our court system could not exist.
"So we do thank you," he said, "and you are free to go at this time."
It was almost dusk by now. The jurors walked together out of the courthouse to the parking lot. They hugged, said goodbye, joked about how they hoped they never had to see one another again. Before separating, they agreed that they'd done their jobs. Lewis, they said, had received a fair trial. They were sure of it.
Farnell would not be passing sentence immediately. He needed to give probation officials some time to prepare a pre-sentence investigation, commonly known as a PSI. The PSI is standard procedure in first-degree murder cases. It is designed to help the judge arrive at the proper sentence. An investigator would read the file, interview people involved in the case, then make a report on his findings. All of this would require at least a couple of weeks, and when the sentencing was finally scheduled, it would be done back in Pinellas County. In the meantime, Lewis would stay in jail.
That evening, the bailiffs allowed George and Glenda to hug and say goodbye in a waiting room. A few moments later, Glenda walked out of the courthouse and joined a group of her husband's supporters at the foot of the steps. They faced the reporters and photographers who'd been waiting for them.
"We continue to have great faith in Georgie," said Evelyn Lewis, reading from a handwritten statement, "and we will continue to fight for Georgie, and we hope he will be vindicated."
Karen's friends and family gave statements to the press, too. Three days before, when the guilty verdict was announced and she'd heard Glenda scream, Karen's mother had said she could not sign a death warrant for Lewis. Now, sickened by the hours of glowing testimony about Lewis and by the defense's description of the murder as a "few frenzied moments," Sophia's compassion was gone.
"I think a life was taken and a life should be given," she said. "There has to be some justice. You can't go kill people that other people love."
That night, a thunderstorm moved over Polk County. Waves of fat raindrops fell to the streets. Bursts of lightning illuminated stretches of the sky.
Dorene Cobb, one of the jurors, could not sleep. She prayed for the Lewis family, asking God to help them accept what had happened. She tried to imagine how she'd feel at that moment if one of her sons were in Lewis' place. She asked herself if she'd stand by him. She thought she would. What else could she do?
Ruth Wunder was also torn by conflicting emotions. She'd tried so hard to do the right thing. But she kept thinking about Lewis and how she and the other jurors had recommended that he be locked up for the rest of his life.
"I'm not sure," she told her husband when she got home.
He asked her what she meant. What wasn't she sure about? The verdict?
"Not necessarily," she said. "I'm not sure that the so-called experts are experts."
The doubts that had nagged at Wunder during deliberations now returned. It still bothered her that one of the prosecution's witnesses had made a statement that did not match something she'd heard on TV, on an episode of Quincy. Dr. Joan Wood, the medical examiner, had testified at the Lewis trial that fingernail scrapings never showed anything. But on Quincy, as Wunder recalled, fingernail scrapings once had helped catch a killer. Now, Wunder didn't know what to believe. During the trial, she remembered, a reference had been made to the fingernail scrapings being lost in this case.
Though this suggestion in fact had been made during the trial, it was incorrect. The fingernail scrapings had not been lost. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), had tested them and determined that there was human blood in the scrapings. But as a crime laboratory analyst had explained in her deposition, months before, there wasn't enough of a sample to determine the blood type.
Wunder did not know this. All she knew was that the scrapings were supposed to have been lost. Now, she had doubts about the validity of what she had heard from several prosecution witnesses. For instance, she remembered something that Larry Bedore, a crime scene analyst who collected evidence inside Karen's house, had said about fingerprints.
Bedore testified that people do not always leave fingerprints when they touch objects. That didn't sound right to Wunder, either. She asked herself if maybe these witnesses were wrong about all sorts of things.
She wondered if maybe Timothy Whitfield, the technician who sprayed Luminol on the hallway carpet, was wrong, too. Maybe he was wrong about all those footprints on the carpet — the footprints that finally persuaded her to vote guilty.
The next day, Wunder and her husband began an investigation. First they went to the public library in Lakeland, searching for technical books that might answer their questions. They found nothing. Then they went to the public library in Tampa. Nothing. So they went searching for experts of their own.
Wunder called the Polk County medical examiner's office and asked someone — she's not sure who — whether fingernail scrapings ever show anything of value. Yes, said the person on the other end of the line.
Sometimes they show a great deal.
Wunder's husband called the Orlando Police Department. He spoke to a supervisor in the crime laboratory, he says — again, he's not sure who — and asked if people always leave fingerprints when they touch things with their bare hands. Yes, the supervisor said. The prints may be difficult to detect, but they're always there.
(According to both the FBI and the FDLE, it is entirely possible to touch an object and not leave fingerprints. Sources at the two agencies say it depends on the type of object touched and the amount of perspiration on one's skin. Meanwhile, the agencies report that fingernail scrapings sometimes can be used to determine a blood type.) Wunder was more worried than ever. It seemed to her that the state's witnesses could have very well been wrong. And if they were wrong, she told herself, then it was possible that Lewis wasn't guilty.
Wunder thought about calling the judge or the lawyers. But she wasn't sure it would do any good. Even if she wanted to change her vote, was that possible? Or would she simply have to learn to live with the verdict? She struggled with these questions for days. Then one night she had a dream. In the dream, she was talking to a man. It wasn't George Lewis. But suddenly she realized that this person was the real murderer and that he was after her. He had a knife.
Wunder woke covered with sweat.
"What's the matter?" said her husband.
"Just hold me," she said. "I'm so scared."
The day after the trial ended, George Lewis was taken to Pinellas County's maximum security jail. He was to stay there until the sentencing.
Lewis' lawyers were already fighting to have the convictions overturned. Juror Maytha Schafer had hoped that they could avoid appeals, but she'd been wrong. Ciarciaglino and Paver were putting together several written motions to be filed with the judge. First, they wanted Farnell to set aside the jury verdict and find Lewis not guilty; if the judge wasn't willing to do that, they asked that he grant a new trial.
These were standard motions, routinely filed with trial judges — and routinely denied. A higher court might grant them, but it was uncommon for the judge who'd presided over the case to decide that he or she had allowed something to go wrong and that now the verdict should be thrown out. In fact, in all his years as a lawyer, Farnell could not recall a trial judge doing so in a first-degree murder case.
Still, Ciarciaglino and Paver were determined to persuade the judge.
Their motion for a new trial was massive. In 26 legal-sized pages, it spelled out more than 60 grounds for why the defense attorneys believed the first trial had been conducted unfairly.
Among their arguments: The jury should not have been allowed to consider the white teddy, because the prosecution had notified the defense of the teddy's existence only several days before the trial. This late development, the lawyers said, forced them to split their time between defending their client at his trial and trying, outside the courtroom, to investigate the new evidence. Furthermore, they pointed out, it was not proved that Lewis had stolen the teddy from Karen Gregory's belongings.
The jury should not have been allowed to consider the hallway carpet on which the bloody footprints were found, because the police left the carpet in the house for weeks before taking it into evidence.
It had not been proved, the lawyers said, that the carpet was in the same condition as it was when Karen's body had been found. In addition, they said, there was no proof that the footprints on the carpet were made by Lewis.
The defense was handicapped when it discovered during the trial that Karen kept a diary.
Karen's family and friends had damaged Lewis' ability to receive a fair trial because they had been "constantly present in a narrow hallway through which the jurors had to pass."
The prosecutors had made improper comments in front of the jury, such as saying that Lewis allowed Karen's body to "rot" for two days inside her house.
Some of the most serious arguments were those involving the teddy.
As it turned out, the jurors hadn't given much weight to the teddy.
Most of them had decided that the undergarment could not possibly be the one reported missing from Karen's belongings. They threw it out, then convicted Lewis anyway. But those discussions were secret. As the judge and the lawyers wrestled with the appeal, they had no way of knowing which evidence the jurors had found important and which they hadn't.
The prosecutors filed a massive motion of their own, responding to the defense's points. If they wanted, Ciarciaglino and Paver could try to make a fuss about Karen's friends and family standing in the courthouse hall. But all of those people, the prosecutors pointed out, were either spectators or witnesses. They had reasons to be there.
Besides, the prosecutors said, if anybody was harmed by such behavior, it was the state. Hadn't Lewis been outside the courtroom, too, hugging his daughter?
But there wasn't much the prosecutors could gain by harping on such arguments. This was one of the ironies of criminal law.
Prosecutors, who carry the burden of proof on their shoulders, simply cannot afford to step out of line with the same impunity as the other side. If they don't present their case in the strictest accordance with the rules — if, say, they allow the victim's family to cry in front of the jury — they risk having a mistrial declared or a conviction thrown out.
But defense attorneys can do the same and know that, strategically, they have much less to lose. They can let their witnesses weep in front of the jury. They can even hurl highly emotional but irrelevant bombshells toward the jury. The lawyers might get a tongue-lashing from the judge or even a contempt citation. But if the jury votes to acquit, none of the lawyers' breaches will count against their client.
"It's a one-way street in this business," Ciarciaglino had said one day to senior prosecutor Richard Mensh. "You know that."
"Yeah," Mensh replied. "I know that."
There was a reason it was a one-way street: No one stood to lose more than the person on trial. And in the eyes of the law — if not always in the eyes of the public - the person on trial was presumed innocent until and unless it was proved otherwise.
It was true that Karen had been horribly murdered. George Lewis, however, was still alive. If he was convicted unfairly, it would be one more injustice added to the first.
The scheduled day of the sentencing — July 13 — was a Monday. Three days before that, juror Ruth Wunder was still searching for peace of mind. By now, she was less certain than ever that the right man had been convicted. She knew the sentencing was approaching. She knew, too, that the judge was considering the motion for a new trial. But what could she do?
"If it were me," her husband told her, "what I'd do would be to call the judge."
The next morning, the two of them tried. It was a Saturday, but they figured that Farnell might be at the criminal courthouse in Pinellas County, researching his decision. They called the courthouse, but there was no answer. Then they tried to reach Farnell at home. But directory information said he had an unlisted number. They'd have to wait until Monday.
The judge wasn't at home much that weekend. He was working overtime inside his office at the civil courthouse in downtown Clearwater, where he usually presided. He was pondering the questions before him. Should he overturn the jury verdict? Or should he go ahead and sentence Lewis?
If so, what should be the sentence? The jury had voted for life, but the pre-sentence investigation was completed now and it recommended that Lewis be executed.
Farnell had no problem getting tough with criminals. Several years before, in another murder case, he'd overridden a jury's recommendation for life and sentenced the defendant to death, calling him "a rabid rat." Yet Farnell also had to uphold the rights of the accused. This was not always the most popular thing to do. People love to complain about how defendants get off on "technicalities." Yet if those same people would ever find themselves on trial, then suddenly those "technicalities" — which can be as basic as the right to have a lawyer — wouldn't seem so technical.
The judge needed to give serious consideration to the defense's arguments. For instance, the jury had convicted Lewis of rape as well as murder. But it had never really been proved, the defense attorneys argued, that Karen was raped. Not by Lewis, not by anyone. It wasn't enough, they said, to simply say that she probably was raped. Farnell thought they had a point. He also thought there was merit to their contention that it had been improper for the prosecution to tell the jury that Lewis had allowed Karen's body to "rot" inside the house.
Furthermore, reading through the defense's arguments, he also agreed that he should not have allowed the jury to consider either the teddy or the carpet.
From the start, Farnell had been at a disadvantage in handling these questions. He had been brought into the case less than two weeks before the trial began, and in the days that followed, he had been confronted with a handful of complicated disputes. He'd done his best to sort them out. But, looking back, it was clear to him that he had made some mistakes. The question was, were those mistakes serious enough to have deprived Lewis of a fair trial?
Farnell worked through the weekend, puffing on his cigars, poring through his notes and stacks of law books, studying the cases the lawyers had cited. He was there until midnight Sunday.
At 8 o'clock Monday morning, sentencing day, Ruth Wunder's husband was back on the phone, trying to reach the judge at the courthouse.
There was no answer. He called several more times. Still no answer.
Finally, about 9 o'clock, he reached Farnell's secretary. He identified himself as the husband of one of the jurors in the Lewis trial. He said his wife wanted to speak to Farnell before he made his decision.
"He already has," said the secretary.
At 8 a.m. that day, there had been a short hearing. The prosecutors were there. So were the defense attorneys, along with Lewis. Judge Farnell walked into court, said good morning, then made an announcement.
"At this time," he told the defense, "I will grant your motion for judgment of acquittal as to the sexual battery. Accordingly, I will grant a new trial on the accumulative effect of matters that you have raised in your motion."
Translated into plain English: I'm overturning the jury's verdict. I'm throwing out the rape charge altogether and ordering a new trial on the murder charge.
Prosecutor Dick Mensh didn't seem to believe what he was hearing.
"You have granted a new trial as to the murder," he said.
Mensh struggled for a few moments. He said he was trying to understand, for the record, what had happened. The judge was granting a new trial based on the totality of the defense's motion? Again, the judge said it was based on the "accumulative effect" of "matters" that had been raised in the defense motion.
That was about all he said.
"Anything further?" he asked the lawyers.
"No, sir," said Paver.
"This court will be adjourned."
Ciarciaglino was triumphant.
"It means," he said, "that the war continues."
Maytha Schafer, the juror who had hoped the appeals could be avoided, was stunned. She was watching the news that night when suddenly she saw a picture of herself and the rest of the jury, sitting in court. When she heard what Farnell had decided, Schafer thought she was dreaming. She felt as though all the jurors' work had been for nothing. If so many things had gone wrong, she wondered, why hadn't the judge stopped the trial?
Ruth Wunder was relieved.
"Now it's going to be up to somebody else," she told her husband.
Greg Blessing, the jury foreman, said: "I have no doubt in my mind that he's guilty of both."
Lewis' sister Linda: "The boy is innocent, that's all. I don't know why people don't believe him."
Karen Gregory's mother: "Are we going to be victims forever and ever? It's all another waste of time. It's just a great big joke. Was it a show?"
It was unclear, on that day in July 1987, how the ruling would affect the outcome of the case. The dropping of the rape charge potentially could cripple any further attempt to convict Lewis of murder. Then there were questions as to the teddy and the carpet. Were those pieces of evidence now permanently excluded? Was there any chance of proving the case without them? After all, the footprints on the carpet had persuaded several of the holdouts on the jury to vote guilty.
Today, a year later, the questions have still not been answered.
The state attorney's office is now fighting the judge's ruling, asking the 2nd District Court of Appeal to overturn it. The defense has filed a cross-appeal, arguing that the murder charge also should be dropped.
Neither appeal has been decided.
If the judge's decision stands, Lewis will be tried again for first-degree murder. Because the change of venue order remains in effect, a new trial would be conducted in a county outside the circulation of the St. Petersburg Times. Any potential jurors, in other words, will not have read either the Times' first series on the case — or this one.
If there is a new trial, there may also be a new judge. Farnell is unsure if he will remain assigned to the case. The first trial, he says, was "a nightmare."
More than two years after they came onto the case, Ciarciaglino and Paver continue to represent Lewis. Though they have spent hundreds of hours on the case, they will not answer a question raised by Karen's friends. Namely: Who is paying for the defense? That the lawyers say, is nobody's business but theirs.
George Lewis remains in Pinellas County's maximum-security jail.
Last summer, immediately after the judge issued his ruling, the defense asked that his bond be reinstated. But Farnell denied the motion.
Lewis, meanwhile, is no longer a St. Petersburg firefighter. The city fired him at 8 a.m. on June 15, 1987 — the first business day after the verdict.
On Feb. 8, 1988, at 6:48 a.m., Glenda Lewis gave birth to her second child — an 8-pound, 8-ounce girl — at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. The child's name is Brittany.
Sgt. Larry Tosi remains at the Gulfport police department. At the moment, he is trying to find out whether recent advances in the comparison of genetic markers from DNA might be used to test the semen found during the autopsy.
Some of those close to Karen Gregory are still working with the Homicide Survivors Group of Pinellas County, which continues to spread support for those whose loved ones have been murdered. This case, after all, is only one of many. Every year, 20,000 people are murdered in the United States.
Four years after Karen's death, her family and friends have vowed to continue fighting for a voice in the court case.
"I'm not going to give up," David Mackey has said. "I'll go to my grave before I give up."
At the office of the homicide survivors group, the members of the organization have covered a wall with photos of the loved ones who are gone. There's one of Karen, sitting in a chair, looking over her shoulder with a hint of a smile. One of her friends calls it her Mona Lisa look.
Neverne Covington wonders about Lewis. She says it makes her angry — and profoundly sad — to realize how much time she has spent thinking about this stranger who, as she puts it, only grows more strange.
There is something else Neverne thinks about. Lewis, she points out, has had years to fight for his life and freedom. He also has had the help of two lawyers, dozens of friends and a long list of constitutional rights, courtroom rules and legal procedures. This is the way of the law. Neverne knows that. But she can't stop thinking about the fact that when Karen was struggling for her life, there was no law. That night, when she cried out, there were no rules, no procedures, no sense of fair play. There was only Karen, fighting alone in the dark with her bare hands.