A Cry in the Night, Part 2: Friends

[Originally published June 13, 1988]

Neverne Covington was at home when the man knocked at her front door.

He had gray hair and a moustache. He was smiling. Neverne looked at him through the screen.

"Hello," she said.

"Hello," said the man. "I'm an investigator with the Karen Gregory homicide."

It did not surprise Neverne that someone wanted to talk with her about the case. She and Karen had been close friends. Karen had come to her house for dinner on the night of the murder. Neverne knew that lawyers for the state and the defense would be questioning her about that last night with Karen.

"Who are you with?" she asked the man.

"I'm here to find out the truth of what happened."

"Who sent you here?"

"I'm just trying to find out the truth."

The man showed her an ID card that confirmed he was a private investigator. Neverne opened the door and let him have a seat on her porch. She asked him again who had sent him.

"We're both on the same side," he said. "We're on the side of justice."

Neverne wasn't so sure. "Who signs your paycheck?" she said.

"Joe Ciarciaglino."

She recognized the name. Ciarciaglino was one of the lawyers defending George Lewis.

"I just want to ask you a few questions," said the man. "How did you know Karen?"

"I was her best friend."

"Where was she that night?"

"Right here. Where you're sitting."

As the man continued, Neverne grew angry. She had been warned that the defense might be digging around for information on Karen. And she did not like people appearing unannounced at her home. Two years after the murder, she was finally starting to feel safe again. Now this man who worked for Lewis' attorneys had shown up. If he knew where she lived, Lewis knew where she lived.

Neverne told the man she wasn't sure if she was supposed to talk to him. She phoned a Gulfport detective and asked him what to do. He told her that the defense attorneys would have a chance to ask her questions later under oath. But this was different. This was a man sitting on her front porch, and the detective said she had the right to not talk to him if she didn't want to — especially because there was no prosecutor present. That was fine with Neverne. She told the private investigator she couldn't believe he had asked her to help in the defense of the man charged with raping and murdering her friend.

"Don't you want to give George Lewis a chance?" the investigator said. "What if it's not him? What if it's somebody else?"

"Yes, I'd like to give him a chance," Neverne said, motioning him toward the door. "The same kind of chance he gave Karen Gregory."

It was April 1986. George Lewis had been arrested a few weeks before, and now the case was beginning to wind its way through the labyrinth of the criminal courts. Already, the friends and family of Karen Gregory were disturbed with the way the case was unfolding.

David Mackey, Karen's boyfriend, wondered whether Karen would be lost in the court battle ahead. He couldn't get over the fact that the case was known as The State of Florida vs. George Lewis. He thought it should be The State of Florida on behalf of Karen Gregory. Wasn't it her murder that had brought them all into court? David was determined to see that no one forgot it. Karen's family thought it was important to be part of the case as well. They did not know what to expect. So not long after the arrest, they arranged a meeting with Beverly Andrews and William Loughery, the two assistant state attorneys who were handling the case.

The prosecutors outlined what was ahead. First, a grand jury would decide whether there was enough evidence to indict Lewis — to formally charge him with the murder. If the grand jury did indict him and he pleaded not guilty, the case would be set for trial. Much would happen, though, in the months before the trial. Most of the time would probably be taken up by a lengthy process known as discovery. During discovery, both the state and the defense would try to learn what evidence the other side had. That way, both sides would have a chance to discover all the relevant information.

Karen's family wanted to know what the chances were of winning a conviction.

"What do you think?" said Karen's father, Delmar.

Andrews and Loughery said that the state had a strong case against Lewis but that he had hired two experienced lawyers — Joseph M. Ciarciaglino Jr. and Robert L. Paver — who would probably try to stall and use smoke screens to obscure the facts against their client. Almost certainly, they would try to put Karen on trial — perhaps by trying to make something out of the fact that she had been living with her boyfriend.

"It's going to be dirty," said Andrews. "There'll be a lot of ugly things."

***

The whole thing would have been easier if Sgt. Larry Tosi had not been friends with Lewis. Their wives had worked together for years, first as cashiers at a grocery store, then as tellers at the drive-through window of a bank. The two couples had gone out together and had barbecues together, and when George and Glenda were married, Larry had presided at the ceremony and read them their vows. So the arrest, when it finally came, was hard.

At the time, Detective Lawrence C. Tosi Jr. was 40. He'd been with the Gulfport police for almost 15 years. He and two other detectives shared a claustrophobic little office that had fake wood paneling on the walls and no windows. Tosi seemed to belong there. His desk was a study in chaos, and he was always jotting notes to himself on scraps of paper and losing them. He chain-smoked Marlboros. He drove a beat-up yellow '73 Barracuda. In his spare time, he collected tropical fish and served as treasurer of the home and school association at his Catholic church. His middle name was Constant.

Around the station, Tosi was known for his talent at creating minor mayhem. He'd walk up some stairs, and the banister would come off in his hand. He'd lean back in a chair and fold his arms behind his head, and both of his sleeves would rip away from his shirt. One time, he was in the office, shredding documents, when he felt a tugging at his neck.

He looked down and saw that his tie, a brand new silk one from his wife, was in the shredder.

"Now Larry," the other detectives would say as he headed out the door. "Don't break anything."

They called him Inspector Clouseau, not just for his klutziness but also because he was a fanatic about the Pink Panther movies. Sometimes he'd phone the station, ask for one of the detectives, then start talking in the inspector's voice.

"This is Clouseau," he'd say.

Tosi had wanted to be a police officer since he was a kid. His father had been a private investigator and a fingerprint examiner, and Larry used to read the detective magazines and watch The Untouchables.

The problem was, he was too short to be a cop. Most departments, he remembers, had a minimum height requirement of 5-foot-8. Tosi was only about 5-7. But he did his best to correct the situation. He bought a book on how to grow taller. He performed exercises — stretching, hanging from a bar, that kind of thing — designed to extend his spinal column. When he thought he'd grown enough, he applied to the St. Petersburg Police Department and scheduled his physical.

He made sure the physical would be in the morning. He had read that people are tallest early in the day, before they've walked around and the weight of their bodies has pushed down on their spines. When the fateful morning arrived, he lay down until it was time to leave. Then he ran to the car and lay down in the back seat. His mother drove. When he arrived for the physical and began answering preliminary questions, he did not sit in his chair. He lay back against it, stretching his legs rigidly in front of him and keeping his back as horizontal as possible.

Then a nurse measured him.

"You're not tall enough," she said.

Tosi was 5-7 3/4, a quarter-inch too short. He left the physical, sure he'd never be a police officer. A month or so later, a friend told him he should apply to the Gulfport police. They had openings, and they had no height requirement. That was how, in 1971, he wound up there.

It was 13 years later when Sgt. Tosi began the search for Karen Gregory's killer.

Tosi was no expert on homicide. Gulfport was a small town, and in a dozen years as a detective, he had investigated a grand total of two other murders. Possibly three, if he counted a man who'd died in a suspicious fire. The two confirmed cases were both stabbings, and both had been solved quickly.

Karen's murder was different. All sorts of problems hindered the investigation. For one thing, the neighbors who had heard Karen cry out had not called the police, and so her body had not been discovered for about 31 hours. If the police had been called at the moment of the scream, the murderer might still have been there or would have just left, leaving a fresh trail. But by the time the police found Karen, the trail was almost 1 1/2 days old. The bloody handprints that had been left on her body, for instance, had soaked into the pores of her skin, making it impossible to clearly see the tiny ridges that distinguish an individual's palm print. As for the semen found inside Karen, it was tested to determine the blood type of her attacker. But the test results were inconclusive.

Not that Tosi and his partners had any trouble finding suspects.

Karen had many friends and acquaintances who might have been drawn to her. One was Peter Kumble, an acquaintance of Karen's and David's.

Kumble had stopped by the house on the evening of May 23, after Karen was murdered but before her body was found. He had driven up in his Volkswagen van, walked onto the front porch, knocked on the door inside and then left a note on one of the cars in the yard. The note included these words: Hello. Stopped by about 7:15 or so but saw no signs of life.

Kumble told the detectives that Karen had invited him over for dinner that night. He had left the note, he said, after no one answered the door. That was all. As for the night before — the night of the murder — Kumble said he'd gone grocery shopping, gone home, worked on his van until about 11 or 11:30, then gone to bed.

The police took fingerprints and hair samples from several suspects, including Kumble, and had them compared to fingerprints and hairs found inside the house. But none of the prints or hairs matched.

The summer went by. The investigation was going nowhere.

Tosi had a black notebook filled with photos from the murder scene.

Every day, he pulled out the notebook and searched for some detail he might have missed. He peered at the pages with a magnifying glass. He muttered to himself. For hours, he sat at his desk, staring at the pictures.

"Nobody deserves to die like that," he said.

Another detective had told him once that when he investigated a murder, he liked to be alone at the murder scene. The detective would ask everyone to leave, and he'd stay there and try to get a feel for what had happened. So Tosi would go alone to Karen's house. He'd sit down, and he'd try to picture the path of the struggle. He'd try to imagine what the killer had been thinking. He said he wanted to let the house talk to him.

***

On April 9, 1986, almost four weeks after George Lewis' arrest, the grand jury indicted him on one count of sexual battery and one count of first-degree murder. Lewis pleaded not guilty. His attorneys filed seven motions to have the indictment dismissed. Ciarciaglino and Paver argued, among other things, that it was vague and indefinite; that it violated Lewis' rights to due process and equal protection of law; and that it subjected Lewis to the possible sentence of death by electrocution, which they said was cruel and unusual punishment, unnecessary mutilation of the body and wanton infliction of psychological torture.

The person called upon to rule on these motions was Circuit Judge Mark R. McGarry Jr. McGarry was not the first judge to have been assigned to the Lewis case. Though it had been filed only a month before, case number 86-03400 had already bounced among four circuit judges. The first was Harry W. Fogle, who presided at the advisory hearing inside the jail. (Fogle, 67, died during open-heart surgery in 1988.) After the advisory hearing, the case was assigned to another judge, Judge Owen S. Allbritton. It went to him because he presided over Division D of Pinellas County's criminal courts, where a court computer had randomly assigned the case. This was not unusual. The computer assigned all cases randomly so that lawyers could not shop around for judges, picking the ones most likely to rule in their favor.

Two weeks after the case was assigned to Judge Allbritton's division, he was transferred to another division in another courthouse.

His replacement in Division D was Judge John S. Andrews. But Andrews could not take the Lewis case. His son had once been married to one of the prosecutors, Beverly Andrews. They were now divorced, but to avoid any appearance of bias, it had been decided that Judge Andrews should not preside over any cases prosecuted by his former daughter-in-law.

So the case was re-assigned to Division B, McGarry's division. A circuit judge for 19 years, McGarry was a thin, sandy-haired man who had never forgotten that there was a world outside the courtroom. He liked to play badminton during his lunch hours, and in years past, when he had a break during a trial, he had been known to retreat to his chambers and strum on a guitar. He also loved to draw cartoons that poked fun at attorneys and judges and their sense of self-importance.

This quiet sense of humor served McGarry well in court. Even when the lawyers before him were tearing into each other, he presided with an air of bemused tranquillity. He was the calm not at the center of the storm, but above it. Seated high on the bench, he watched the lawyers fight their cases and gave them wide latitude to fight as they saw fit. There was no point in his getting upset about the fighting. That was what lawyers did.

When the Lewis case reached his division, McGarry wasted no time.

He reviewed the defense attorneys' seven motions to have the indictment dismissed. He denied them all. The prosecutors, meanwhile, had filed a motion of their own. Lewis was being held in jail on $150,000 bond. To make sure he stayed there, they had asked the judge to increase the bond. For both sides, a great deal was at stake. The state knew that if Lewis was released on bond, there was always a chance he might flee.

And some of the witnesses would undoubtedly be intimidated. Neverne Covington, for one, was already afraid of Lewis. She believed that he had followed her one day about five months before his arrest.

That day, Neverne had been standing in line at a bank in Gulfport when suddenly she had the feeling someone was watching her. She turned around, and there was Lewis. She had seen him before in Karen's neighborhood, and she knew that the police considered him a suspect.

Now he was standing in line behind her, staring at her. After she left the bank, Neverne drove toward Eckerd College, where she had a studio.

She noticed that Lewis was driving behind her. She watched him in her rear-view mirror. When she turned, he turned. He stayed behind her all the way to Eckerd. Just as she got there, he drove off.

Now that he was behind bars, the last thing Neverne wanted was to have him out again. She was tired, she said, of being afraid.

The defense was determined to keep the bond as low as possible.

Lewis and his family were going to have enough trouble making a $150,000 bond, but they were willing to try. It was important to them that Lewis be released. George and Glenda Lewis had a 1-year-old daughter named Tiffany, and she did not understand what had happened to her father. If he was released, he could be with his wife and daughter and could get a job to help pay his bills.

Furthermore, there were strategic advantages. People charged with first-degree murder are usually held without bond before their trial.

If Lewis were out, the jurors might wonder whether the evidence against him was weak. It was one thing to see a man sitting in court in a jailhouse uniform, shackled and flanked by bailiffs. It was another to see him walking freely through the halls in a suit and tie, hugging his wife and kissing his little girl.

The question, in other words, was not simply whether Lewis would buy some time with his family before the trial. It was whether he would have a chance to buy a convincing impression of innocence.

***

In the beginning, Tosi did not suspect Lewis.

Lots of people around Gulfport knew George well. He'd lived there since he was a boy and had gone to Boca Ciega High School. He was from a Catholic family who belonged to Most Holy Name of Jesus, the same church Tosi attended. Lewis' father worked for the postal department in St. Petersburg. His mother was a secretary for the local diocese. They had seven children, and George was the youngest. Sometimes they called him Georgie.

Among his friends, he was known as being easy-going, friendly, a little shy sometimes. He liked to water-ski and race model cars. He baked chocolate chip cookies. He watched his neighbors' yards for them when they were on vacation and did other little favors to help them.

And he loved being a firefighter. That's what he'd always wanted to do.

When he was a teen-ager, he used to follow the trucks. He'd hear their sirens and jump on his bike and race after them. Then, when he turned 18, he became a volunteer with the Gulfport Fire Department. At 21, the city of St. Petersburg hired him fulltime as a firefighter.

George's love of his job ran through almost everything he did. He watched reruns of Emergency on TV. He kept a first-aid kit in his pickup truck and would stop if he saw an accident. He also had a habit of playing amateur detective. If he saw some suspicious kids riding by on their bikes, he'd check them out. If people drove wildly through the neighborhood, he'd jump in his truck and chase after them.

"Justice is never done," he used to complain. "People get away with murder."

He and his wife, Glenda, lived in a house catty-corner from Karen Gregory's. Glenda was one of the neighbors who heard the scream. At the time, she didn't know what it was. But two days later, when Karen's body was found, a friend — Debbie Tosi, Sgt. Tosi's wife — called Glenda and told her that a woman had been killed across the street.

"Oh my God," Glenda said. "I have to call George."

Afterward, Glenda talked with Debbie about that night. Glenda said she was in bed when the cry awakened her. She went looking for George and was not able to find him. She looked out toward the garage, where he often worked late, welding and woodworking and tinkering. But George wasn't there. She said when he finally came back, he had been gone for "the longest time." George had told Glenda that he'd heard the scream and had gone looking up and down the street to see whether anything was wrong.

That summer, George and Glenda were having problems. They weren't married yet — Glenda had been living with George for years — and they were arguing frequently. Part of the friction was caused by pressures in the house. Mike Blank, a friend of George's who used to chase after the fire trucks with him when they were kids, was living there. Then one of George's sisters moved in, and things grew complicated. It was a small house and the quarters were cramped, and the sister, Mary Lewis, squabbled with the others over the arrangements and the bills. So Blank moved out. Not long after the murder, Glenda left, too.

There was another problem. Glenda was pregnant. She hadn't realized it yet when she moved out, she said, but when she found out, it only made things more complicated. Acquaintances would later disagree as to how George initially felt about the pregnancy. Some said he wanted to marry Glenda; others said he didn't want to do any such thing. George had been married once before. He had met his first wife when he was just 18, and the marriage had ended in divorce after 1 1/2 years.

George, some friends said, didn't want to take that route again.

By that fall, though, the two of them had patched things up.

Glenda, still pregnant, moved back in. They set their wedding for Dec. 15 and asked Tosi, who was a notary, to perform the ceremony.

George wanted to exchange the vows on a fire truck. They did it at the station in St. Petersburg where he worked, station number four, at 2501 Fourth St N. George, Glenda and Tosi stepped into the basket of a truck, and the basket was raised. Tosi wouldn't let them go too high, though. He didn't like heights and insisted that they put no more than five or six feet between themselves and the ground. When the ceremony was over, the basket was lowered, Tosi stepped out, and then the newlyweds were raised high. They kissed and signed the top of a nearby streetlight.

It was a month or so later, just as Glenda was about to give birth, that the investigation turned toward George. The problem was his explanation of what he'd seen and heard on the night of the murder. It kept changing.

At the start, he told the police that he'd been working in the garage on his motorcycle when he heard the scream. He'd gone outside and looked around but hadn't seen anyone except a man riding a bike.

But now, in early 1985, Sgt. Tosi and his boss — Lt. Frank Hanson — decided they wanted George to go over his story. Maybe there was some detail he'd forgotten to tell them.

This time, when George went over his account with Hanson, something didn't sound right. For one thing, George said he hadn't heard the glass breaking as Karen's head went through her jalousie door during the attack. He'd been in his garage with the door open, and yet he had not heard that sound? Hanson asked George to take a polygraph test.

The test took place Feb. 7, 1985. A polygraph examiner named Mike Brentnell, hired from a private firm, set up his instrument in a room at the station. He and George talked alone. Brentnell went over the questions he intended to ask. That way, he said, George would not be surprised. George said he was nervous. Brentnell told him not to worry.

He told him to close his eyes.

"Regarding Karen Gregory, do you intend to answer each question truthfully?"

"Yes."

"Before this year did you ever hit anyone from behind?"

"No."

"Did you stab Karen?"

"No."

"Before this year did you ever intentionally want to hurt anyone?"

"No."

"Did you stab Karen in her home?"

"No."

"Is there anything else you are afraid I will ask you a question about even though I have told you I would not?"

"No."

"Were you present when Karen was stabbed?"

"No."

"Do you suspect anyone else of stabbing Karen?"

"No."

Brentnell studied the readings from the instrument. He told George he was lying. He told George to come clean with him. George began to cry.

"You stabbed Karen," Brentnell said.

"No, I didn't."

"Either you did, or you know who did."

That's when George said that he saw a man on Karen's lawn that night. He said that after the scream he saw a man — a white man with a beard and red hair — standing on Karen's lawn. The man, he said, stared at him and frightened him. That was why, George said, he didn't tell the police. He didn't want the man coming after Glenda.

Glenda had the baby at Bayfront Medical Center on the evening of Feb. 24. She was in labor for 14 hours, and George was there the whole time. When she was born, Tiffany Lewis weighed 7 pounds, 12 ounces.

Two weeks later, on March 7, George was back at the police station, taking more polygraph tests from Brentnell. The examiner was friendly. He called George his "buddy" and said he wanted to help him. He asked George about the baby.

"So how's being a new father?" he said.

"I wouldn't give it up for the world," said George. He pulled out a photo of Tiffany and showed it to him.

But the session — most of which was tape-recorded — grew tense.

Under Brentnell's questioning, George's story changed again. This time, he said he and the man on the lawn talked. They stood a few feet from each other — not across the street — and George asked the man whether anything was wrong. The man, he said, told him to get lost and mind his own business. The man said he'd come back and kill George if George told the police he'd seen him.

Brentnell looked at the readings from the instrument. They still indicated George was lying.

"I know why you're failing the test, George," Brentnell said, "and you do

too. Now what did that girl do to upset you?"

"What do you mean?" said George.

"Because I think you killed her."

"What?"

"I do. I think you killed her. But there has to be a reason why."

George said he didn't do it. He said he didn't kill her. Brentnell scoffed. He asked George if he knew how many times Karen had been stabbed. George said no. Well, said Brentnell, someone must have been deeply upset to stab Karen that many times. Brentnell said he knew George was a good person. He said he knew George normally wasn't violent. But maybe, he said, there had been a mistake.

"We all fall down. We all make a mistake. We're all human," Brentnell said.

"Now George, why don't you be honest? Did you make a mistake?"

"No." George kept denying it. He said he had never hurt Karen. Brentnell paused. Karen, he pointed out, had been killed. Why, he asked, did George use the word "hurt?"

"Do you wish that's all you did was hurt her?"

George said he didn't do anything to Karen. He said he didn't care what the instrument showed; he was telling the truth. Brentnell said he didn't believe it. Either George had killed Karen, or he was still holding something back. George said he'd told everything he knew.

Brentnell said that was a lie, that George was making up this man on the lawn. Brentnell said that when George described the man, he seemed to be describing himself. George, after all, had red hair and had once worn a beard. Tosi himself thought George resembled the description of the man.

"I don't believe you're saying that," said George. "All I can tell you is that I don't believe that you're actually trying to say that I killed her. 'Cause I never knew her."

"I don't have to try it," Brentnell said. "I'm telling you George, you killed her. See my lips?"

The only thing the new story proved was that George's old stories had been lies. The police still had no evidence to show that George had been inside the house that night. But now, Tosi was looking differently at his friend. The two of them would be talking, and Tosi would stare at George's face, searching for hints of whether the man was capable of the violence that had taken place inside that house. He would stare at George's hands, trying to figure out if they were the same size as the bloody handprints that had been found on Karen's body.

Tosi told his wife she should avoid being alone with George.

Sometimes George brought young Tiffany over to the house so Debbie could babysit her. Tosi didn't think that was a good idea anymore. He also didn't want Debbie taking their daughter to the Lewis house for babysitting. George, he told her, was the prime suspect.

Debbie didn't believe it. She said George couldn't be the murderer.

"Well, I'm telling you," said Tosi. "I wouldn't let him in the house if I were you."

For months, nothing happened. Samples were taken of Lewis' hairs and prints, but none of them matched the evidence found at the murder scene.

More than a year had gone by since the murder. Tosi was more obsessed than ever. Kneeling at his church on Sundays, he prayed for Karen Gregory's soul and asked for God's help in solving the case. Each day he would still get out the black notebook and study the photos. The other detectives would look up from their desks and see him sitting there, staring at his hands. They'd hear him talking aloud to Karen.

They'd watch as he looked through the magnifying glass at the photos of her body on the carpet.

Nobody deserves to die like that.

Finally, in early 1986, Tosi returned to the bloody footprint that had been found on the floor of Karen's bathroom. It wasn't a whole footprint, just a partial print left by the heel of someone's bare foot. A crime scene analyst with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) had photographed it and taken the negative to the department's Tampa crime lab. Tosi thought maybe they could make a life-size photo from the negative and use it to make an ID. Tosi had already asked the FDLE a couple of times about this. Each time, he said, he had been told to forget it. The lab, he said, had told him the footprint was just a smudge and was useless for making an ID.

Tosi decided to try anyway. In January 1986, he went to the lab and got the negative. He sent it and Lewis' inked footprints to the FBI laboratory in Washington, D.C. He wanted the FBI to see whether the footprint in blood matched one of Lewis' footprints. There wasn't much chance the footprint could have been made by the stranger on the lawn.

George said the man had been wearing sandals.

On March 11, a print specialist with the FBI called back. There was no doubt about it, the specialist said: Lewis had made the footprint in blood.

The arrest was four days later. It was a Saturday, and Lewis was on duty. Tosi and Lt. Hanson didn't want to make a scene with the other firefighters around, so they asked Lewis to come to the Gulfport police station to answer more questions. When they reached the station, they questioned Lewis again about the night of the murder.

"Were you ever in the house?" Hanson said.

"No."

"You were never in that house?"

"No."

"You've never been in that house?"

"No."

They let him lie, and lie again, and again, and then they told him about the footprint.

"We got a problem, George," said Tosi. For a few minutes, Lewis clung to his story. He said there was no way his footprint could have been found inside the house. He said he hadn't even been barefoot that night.

"You're telling me you've never been in the house?" said Hanson.

"No, I haven't."

"How did your footprint get in the house?"

"I don't know. I didn't put it there."

"Well, somebody else didn't take your foot off and put it there, did they?"

"No."

George said he didn't want to answer any more questions. He said he wanted a lawyer.

"Well," said Tosi, "I guess we've reached that point, George. I have to place you under arrest for the murder of Karen Gregory."

"I didn't do it to her, Larry."

"I've got no choice, George. All indications are that you did."

Suddenly, Lewis started talking. With tears in his eyes, he admitted he had been in the house that night. He said he had heard Karen scream and had gone inside to help her. But he hadn't killed her, he said. He could never do anything like that to a human being, he said. He'd been having nightmares ever since he'd seen her body that night, lying on the floor.

Tosi listened quietly.

"This hurts me worse than it does you," Larry said. "Believe me."

***

David Roberts, a lieutenant with the St. Petersburg Fire Department, went to visit Lewis one day at the maximum security jail, near St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. Roberts asked George whether he was guilty. George said no.

"Why have they got you here?" Roberts asked.

"I don't know. You will hear a lot of stories."

"Okay. I believe you. Because I don't think you could have done it."

Other men and women at the fire department believed George was innocent, too. How could they have been willing to risk their lives in the flames with him if they didn't trust him? George's family and other friends, meanwhile, insisted that he had been framed and that the police had made a terrible mistake. If anyone asked, they did not hesitate to offer the opinion that the world had seen better detectives than Sgt. Larry Tosi.

"I've heard," said one person, "that he wasn't too much of a police officer."

Every night, George's wife Glenda visited him at the jail, taking different people with her to say hello and wish him good luck. So many people wanted to see him that the family had to keep a schedule of appointments. At the fire department, dozens of firefighters and paramedics donated their vacation and holiday time so George could continue drawing a paycheck and help support his wife and daughter even as he sat behind bars. George also had the support of a Catholic bishop named J. Keith Symons. George's mother had been the bishop's secretary for 15 years, working for him first at the diocese in St. Petersburg and then following him to the Panhandle when he was transferred to Pensacola. Symons wrote a letter to Judge McGarry on George's behalf.

It said: I have known George since he was in high school and watched him grow as a caring Christian young man. I am personally convinced he is innocent of the charges that have been made against him. I am confident that, if bond is granted to him, he will remain in the St. Petersburg area to face the charges when the trial date is set. Through the years that I have known George, he has always been concerned about the welfare of other people of all ages.

Some of Lewis' friends and relatives believed in him deeply enough to risk losing their homes for him. To help him get out of jail while awaiting trial, several people offered to secure his bond with their residences rather than cash. If Lewis were to flee under such circumstances, the county would have the right to take the homes and sell them. This was what is known as a property bond, and before it could be accepted, it needed Judge McGarry's approval. The defense attorneys had asked for that approval. Meanwhile, the prosecution was still pushing to have the bond increased from $150,000.

There was not one hearing to settle the question of the bond. There were three, and all took place at the Pinellas County Criminal Courts Building, which sits beside the jail where Lewis was being held.

At the first hearing, dozens of people showed up to support Lewis.

Many of them were St. Petersburg firefighters and paramedics. Several of them were standing outside the courtroom, waiting for the hearing to begin, when Beverly Andrews walked up. They knew who she was — the lawyer in charge of trying to prove that their friend was a murderer.

As Andrews moved through them, heading for the courtroom, they stared at her. One of them said something. Andrews didn't see the man who said it, but he spoke loudly, obviously wanting her to hear.

"She better hope she's never in an accident in St. Petersburg," the man said.

Andrews went inside the courtroom and complained to Ciarciaglino.

The case was going to be tough enough as it was. She didn't need to be fielding vague threats from George's friends in the fire department.

There was another problem. Andrews looked around the room and saw that there were about 50 people on hand to speak against her motion.

Many of them were wearing their uniforms. Yet she had no witnesses of her own. Karen's family and friends would have been there if they had known. But no one in the state attorney's office had told them.

The hearing began a few moments later — and ended almost immediately. Andrews announced that she was dropping the motion to increase the bond. She did not say she was doing so because she was outnumbered by Lewis supporters. (In fact, she would later deny that her retreat had anything to do with that.) Instead, she simply said there had been a misunderstanding.

"I was under the mistaken impression," she said, "that the bond was at $50,000. The file reflects it's at $150,000. Therefore, I'm withdrawing my motion at this time."

Within a few weeks, however, Andrews had filed the motion again.

This time, when it came up for a hearing, she had witnesses: Karen's brother Roy and sister Kim; David; Neverne; and Tosi. When the bailiffs brought in Lewis, he took a seat beside one of his lawyers, directly in front of Karen's friends. Kim, who had never seen him before, felt her heart pounding. She couldn't look at him. Neverne, on the other hand, couldn't stop staring. It would have been easier if Lewis had looked like a monster. But he was clearly a human being. He appeared to have just gotten out of bed. He was wearing his blue jail uniform. He was yawning and scratching his chin. His red hair was uncombed, his skin was pale. Neverne thought he looked vulnerable. She wondered if they fed him well at the jail.

Each of the witnesses explained why they did not want Lewis to go free before his trial. Neverne talked about how frightened she'd been after she thought Lewis was following her.

"My life," she told McGarry, "certainly has not been the same since this has happened. I have not slept well for the past two years.

Now this individual has been arrested and put in jail. I feel a little more comfortable, a little safer."

As she spoke in front of the judge, Neverne was keenly aware that Lewis was sitting only a few feet behind her, watching. If he had wanted, he could have reached out his hand and touched her.

A third hearing was scheduled a month later to allow Lewis' friends and family to tell their side. The first to speak was Ralph Hawkins, at that time a captain with the fire department.

"How long have you known George?" Ciarciaglino asked him.

"Since he came on, about three years," said Hawkins. "He's worked for me for about two years."

"Do you believe, in light of the seriousness of the charges, that George would appear for his trial if he were released on bond?"

"Yes."

"Does he have the support of all of his co-workers?"

"Yes. Yes, he does."

Evelyn Lewis, George's mother, spoke as well. She was a short, dark-haired woman who walked in small, careful steps. Her husband, she explained, had died a few months before. She said she was thankful that he was not alive to see their youngest boy in jail.

"And I feel my son is innocent," she said, "and I know, I know and I promise on my husband's grave he will appear for any charges against him if he is let out."

After listening carefully, McGarry made up his mind. He said he was raising the bond to $ 300,000. He said he wasn't going to accept property bonds.

"It will have to be posted in cash?" said Ciarciaglino.

"Unless he comes up with something other than that," said McGarry. "I'm not going to have his friends and neighbors putting up their homes and residences and all their personal property based upon this case. Because it does sound like it's a serious case and does sound like the state's case is pretty — is stronger than I thought. So there it is: $ 300,000."

***

It was around then, just as the court case was beginning to move forward, that Tosi heard about something called Luminol. He was taking a course on homicide investigation, and he learned that Luminol is a chemical solution that reacts with an enzyme in blood, causing it to glow. It's used to find faint bloodstains or stains not visible to the eye.

Tosi thought of the section of the hallway carpet on which Karen's body had been found. Even though the crime scene analysts hadn't taken it into evidence, David Mackey had saved it and given it to the police.

There had been bloodstains on that carpet. But they were dried and faded now, and against the brown color of the carpet, it was impossible to see their distinct shapes. Perhaps Luminol could be used to find other footprints or handprints.

Tosi asked for help from some technicians with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Department who knew how to use Luminol. First, they scanned the carpet with a laser, looking for the general areas of bloodstains and any other evidence. Under the light of the laser, the stains appeared as black, velvet-like blotches. Then they sprayed Luminol over the areas with the stains. They did this in a dark room. Immediately, the stains on the carpet began to glow. One by one, bare footprints appeared. They could see the imprints of toes and arches and heels.

There appeared to be at least a dozen footprints. They were all across the carpet. Tosi, watching nearby, thought it looked as though the person who'd made the prints had been dancing.

Before the glowing footprints faded, the technicians photographed and videotaped them. One technician had a phosphorescent ruler, and he measured one of the prints. It was difficult to be absolutely precise, considering that he was measuring a stain that might have spread across the surface of the carpet. But the technician did his best. The footprint, he said, was approximately 9 1/2 to 10 inches long.

About the same length as Lewis' feet.

Tosi went on attending Mass every Sunday. He was still praying for justice and for Karen's soul and for her family. But now he included others in his prayers as well. He was asking God to give strength and solace to Glenda and Tiffany and the rest of the Lewis family during the difficult times ahead. They are innocent, Tosi told himself. No matter what George may have done, they are innocent.

A Cry in the Night, Part 2: Friends 04/09/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 11, 2008 1:25pm]

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