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A Cry in the Night, Part 4: Tonja

[Originally published June 15, 1988]

It was the first weekend in January 1987. William Brinkworth, a Gulfport police detective, was off-duty, hanging around the city's marina. Suddenly a man in blue jeans walked by. He was in his mid-20s.

He had red hair, a red moustache and a smattering of freckles. His head was lowered, as though he didn't want to make eye contact.

"Lewis," Brinkworth said. "That looked like George Lewis."

"Didn't you know he was out?" said the harbormaster, who was standing a few feet away.

Brinkworth didn't know. When Lewis was released on bond on New Year's Eve, hardly anyone had been told. Not the police. Not the prosecutors. Not those close to Karen Gregory. This was not unusual. In Pinellas County, there is no system in place to routinely notify the police or anyone else when defendants — even those accused of violent crimes — are released on bond.

Brinkworth stood quietly watching as the man charged with Karen's murder walked along the sidewalk a few feet away. Lewis stopped at a shrimp tank. He bought some bait. He walked away.

It is uncommon to see an accused killer walking the street before his trial. That's because defendants charged with first-degree murder are usually held without bond. But in the Lewis case, a series of accidents, maneuvers and legal arguments had led to an exception. The police and prosecutors had assumed that Lewis would never be able to make a bond of $300,000. He was not a wealthy man. He was a firefighter with a wife and young daughter. His mother was a widow who had worked for years as a secretary. In June 1986, the defense had asked Circuit Judge Mark McGarry to approve a property bond. In a hearing before the judge, the defense had asked the court to allow the Lewis family to offer some property — the homes of several of George's friends and family members — to guarantee his bond. But McGarry had refused to do so. So the family looked for help outside the court system. In early November, one of George's sisters approached Al Estes, the owner of a local bonding company, and asked him what it would take for him to get George out of jail. Estes told her he would need the standard 10 percent fee bonding agents charge — in this case, $30,000 in cash, which would be nonrefundable — plus enough property to serve as collateral for the entire $300,000 while George was out and waiting for the trial.

Evelyn Lewis, George's mother, took out a second mortgage on her house and got Estes the $30,000. She also put up about $40,000 worth of rare coins and other valuables. At least a dozen other people — family, friends and several members of the St. Petersburg Fire Department — offered money, jewelry, a boat and other property, including several houses. It was an act of collective faith in George. If he fled, his friends and family would lose all the property.

Estes was impressed that the people around George believed in his innocence deeply enough to risk so much. Not everyone, however, was pleased. One day after the news of George's release was in the newspaper, the phone rang at Estes' mid-county office. An assistant answered.

"You freed Lewis," said a man on the other end. "I'm going to kill you, m-----f-----."

Click.

"I've been threatened for putting them back in jail," Estes told a Tampa Tribune reporter. "But never for getting them out."

David Mackey, Karen's boyfriend, wanted to know where the money was coming from. There was more involved than the $30,000 bonding fee.

There was the question of the defense attorneys. People charged with crimes in this country have a right to a lawyer, even if they can't afford one themselves. That's why many defendants are represented by the public defender's office. But Lewis had hired private counsel — Joseph Ciarciaglino and Robert Paver, two experienced and presumably expensive lawyers. They had been working on the case for almost a year now. They had hired a private investigator. They had questioned dozens of witnesses. Paver had even flown to Arizona to take a deposition.

Now, David couldn't help wondering: Who was paying for it all?

Others close to Karen, meanwhile, were afraid because Lewis was out of jail. Neverne Covington, Karen's friend, had testified against him at one of the bond hearings. She had accused him of following her before his arrest. Neverne lived in Gulfport, only a few blocks from the marina where Detective Brinkworth had seen Lewis. Now Neverne felt vulnerable. She knew that, rationally, Lewis ought to realize it was best to avoid any contact with her. But if Lewis was in fact the murderer, he was not necessarily a rational person. How could she assume he would stay away from her?

Sometimes Neverne wondered what it would be like to make Lewis afraid. She imagined calling him on the phone. She knew what she would say.

Hi. I'm Karen. I lived across the street from you. Remember me?

Why did you hurt me? Did you know how much this has hurt so many people? I fought hard, didn't I? You didn't think I had that in me. Do you still think about me? When you make love with your wife, do you think about how you raped me?

***

When he left jail, Lewis did not return to his Gulfport home. It had been sold to some friends of the family. George, his wife Glenda and their daughter Tiffany found an apartment in northeast St. Petersburg.

Lewis had been placed on judicial leave from the fire department, so to pay some of his bills he worked in a machine shop in Gulfport.

One of George's friends had some advice for him. The friend said he knew what he'd do if he were facing a murder charge — he'd run. But George did not run. Twice each day, he checked in with Al Estes.

Quietly, George tried to go on with his life. Sometimes it was not easy. The four-day series in the St. Petersburg Times had given him some notoriety. One day, he was standing in a supermarket express line when he realized the fresh-faced high school kid behind the register was staring at him with a look of fright in her eyes. She'd been ringing up his purchase. She hadn't seen him until she'd rung the total and looked up. Now she was shaking.

"Yeah," Lewis said gently. "It's me."

He picked up his bag and left.

***

"Pardon?" said Milton Lewis, one of George's brothers.

"Do you know why he was arrested for the murder of that girl?"

"I don't know why."

"Did he ever tell you what the police had on him?"

"I have no idea what the exact evidence was. I realize — I understood there was a footprint involved, but that's all I am aware of."

It was March 3, exactly one week before the trial was to begin.

Over the past several weeks, the defense attorneys had been handing over the names of their potential witnesses to the state. Now, Beverly Andrews and William Loughery, the two prosecutors on the case, were deposing some of those witnesses — questioning them under oath. The prosecutors were not able to depose Lewis himself. By law, they could not force him to answer any questions unless and until he chose to take the stand at his trial. Instead, Andrews and Loughery were talking to other members of the Lewis family, as well as George's friends and co-workers. Hardly any of these people, it turned out, knew much about the case. But they did know George and his background. So the prosecutors asked about that.

They asked Richard Campbell, one of the friends who had put up his house for the bond, whether George was the kind of person who looked out for his neighbors. Campbell said yes. George, said Campbell, had been the neighborhood watchdog — cutting grass for people, fixing things for them, keeping an eye on their homes.

"Well," said one of the prosecutors, "would you think he would be defined as a good neighbor?"

"Yes, yes. Probably better than a good neighbor."

They asked Roy Ozmore, another friend, if he thought George was a truthful person.

"Very truthful."

"Do you have an opinion as to whether George is a violent person?"

"No, he is not."

They asked Anita Fridy, one of George's sisters, if she had spoken to George about the facts of the case. She said no. All she knew about the case, she said, was what she'd read in the paper.

"Do you think George could have done this?"

"No."

"Why is that?"

"Because he would not do such a thing."

By now, yet another judge had been assigned to the case. Mark McGarry, who had been handling it for most of the previous year, had moved in a routine transfer to another courthouse.

McGarry's replacement was Circuit Judge William L. Walker, a quiet man whose white hair and white beard stood out above his black robe.

Walker had served on the bench in Pinellas County for more than a decade. He was an amiable, unassuming judge who had the slightly disconcerting habit of mumbling. Sometimes the people in his courtroom struggled to hear him. Luckily, the judge had a sense of humor about this — he joked about it in court — and did not mind repeating himself.

The past year had not always been easy for Walker. Three times, the Florida Supreme Court had ruled that mistakes had been made during first-degree murder cases over which Walker had presided. The Supreme Court had overturned all three cases. The Lewis trial did not promise to make the judge's life any easier. The question of guilt or innocence was not clear, as it is in some cases. In addition, the Times' series was bound to complicate the task of finding an unbiased jury. Finally, there was an underlying tension that came from personal history.

Several people on opposite sides of the case had known one another in the past.

The most obvious tie was the friendship between Sgt. Larry Tosi and George Lewis, as well as the friendship between their wives. But there were other ties, too. Beverly Andrews, one of the prosecutors, had a connection with Joseph Ciarciaglino, one of the defense attorneys. When she was a law student, Andrews had briefly served as a clerk for Ciarciaglino. Later, when she was getting a divorce, Andrews had hired Ciarciaglino to represent her. Ciarciaglino, meanwhile, had also represented Sgt. Tosi — along with other police officers — in a dispute with the city of Gulfport about back wages.

None of this had stopped the two sides from battling hard. They had argued with each other and picked at each other and accused each other of playing games. Word games. Witness games. Lawyer games. As the final days before the trial ticked by, both sides were still arguing. They were arguing about evidence and about whether or not the trial should be held in Pinellas County or should be moved somewhere beyond the reach of the case's pretrial publicity. They had already fought once over this issue — before he was transferred off the case, Judge McGarry had decided to keep the trial in Pinellas — but Ciarciaglino and Paver were not ready to let it rest.

***

March 10 was a Tuesday. The trial began that morning at the Pinellas County Criminal Courts Building. The prosecutors arrived early, carrying their files up to the fourth floor, where the case was to be tried. Beverly Andrews stopped for a moment to look out a hallway window. Down in the parking lot stood a motor home that Ciarciaglino and Paver had brought to the courthouse as a mobile office. The office had typewriters, law books, telephones. It was planted where no one could miss it, taking up at least three parking spaces directly in front of the building's entrance. Parked nearby were two silver Mercedeses — one belonging to Ciarciaglino, one belonging to Paver.

Now, Ciarciaglino was standing outside the motor home. His suit jacket was off. He was smiling and laughing and talking with his assistants.

"He's holding court out there," said Andrews, shaking her head. "Unbelievable."

A few minutes later, after the defense attorneys arrived with Lewis, the proceedings got under way with some preliminary motions. The first thing that happened was that Ciarciaglino asked that two of Karen's friends — David Mackey and Anita Kilpatrick, who were sitting in the audience — be ordered to leave the room.

"I would ask the court," he said to the judge, "to invoke the rule."

The rule is one commonly used during trials. It says that no witness can sit in court when other witnesses are on the stand. It's designed to prevent people from being influenced by the testimony of others — and to prevent them from changing their own testimony. But lawyers, both prosecutors and defense attorneys alike, sometimes use it to keep family members and friends of either the victim or the accused out of the courtroom. The lawyers do not want jurors to see a mother's tears or a brother's angry stare. They don't want jurors to be swayed by sympathy — at least not by sympathy for the other side — so sometimes they list friends and family as potential witnesses, even when they have no intention of calling those people to the stand.

That wasn't the case here. Both David and Anita were listed as witnesses, and there was little doubt that they would eventually be called to testify. Beverly Andrews, however, argued against having them removed from the courtroom so soon. She pointed out that the trial had not reached the stage where testimony would be heard. Why, she asked, should David and Anita have to leave now?

Ciarciaglino, who had already asked Glenda Lewis and other defense witnesses to step outside, said there was a good reason for David and Anita to do the same. The preliminary motions, he said, concerned the facts of the case.

All right, said Walker.

"Out of an abundance of caution," he said, "we will just remove them."

David and Anita had taken off from work just to be there. Once the judge ordered them out, though, they had no choice but to leave. A bailiff escorted them to the hallway, where Glenda Lewis and other people supporting her husband had gathered. It was a narrow hall, with only a few benches, and the two groups were uncomfortably close to each other. David and Anita found seats and tried not to stare.

When the lawyers were finished with the preliminary motions, they moved down the hall to Courtroom A, the largest in the building. On that Tuesday morning, the courtroom was filled with spectators and a collection of lawyers and clerks who had sneaked away from their desks to watch the beginning of the trial. Seated in the center section of the room's benches was a group of 50 prospective jurors. A door opened at the back of the courtroom. The voice of a bailiff boomed out: "All rise."

Judge Walker stepped into the room, his black robe flowing behind him. He sat down at the bench, and then everyone else was seated.

Almost immediately, the lawyers scurried to the bench for a huddle with the judge — a huddle that was conducted in whispers, so others in the courtroom could not hear. This was called a bench conference, and its purpose was to allow the lawyers to speak with Walker about matters they did not want to talk about in open court. There would be dozens of such conferences in the days to come. The lawyers would use them to ask for a mistrial, to complain, to argue, to accuse each other of improper behavior and to ask to use the bathroom.

In this bench conference, Ciarciaglino pointed out that David and Anita were now at the back of this courtroom after they'd been told to leave the one down the hall. Again, Ciarciaglino asked the judge to have them removed. Again, Andrews argued that the witnesses should be allowed to stay for the time being. Andrews, in fact, had told David and Anita they could sit in the courtroom now. This was only jury selection, Andrews reminded the judge. There was nothing Karen's friends could hear that would prejudice their testimony. Andrews said that it was important to them to be here and that it was unfair to kick them out. Ciarciaglino, she said, was just harassing them.

Judge Walker agreed that rulings in the law may well have said it was all right for David and Anita to stay. But he said he had to think about the possible appeal. What if he allowed them to stay and the status of the law changed? What if a higher court reversed him?

"I'm going to grant the motion," Walker said quietly. "Get them out of here."

So Anita and David were removed again. They stood outside the courtroom and stared through the windows.

"Case set for trial today is State of Florida vs. George Lewis," Walker announced. "State ready to proceed?"

"Yes sir," said Andrews.

"Defense ready?"

"May we approach the bench?" said Ciarciaglino.

Back to the bench they went. Ciarciaglino asked that the trial be delayed.

"We are not ready," he told the judge.

"We will proceed as if you are ready," said Walker.

The arguments went on. Andrews bickered with Ciarciaglino.

Ciarciaglino bickered back. When they were done, Ciarciaglino turned from the bench to return to his seat, thanking the judge as he went.

Andrews immediately called him back.

"Judge," she said, turning to Walker, "before we go back — Mr. Ciarciaglino, can I have your attention, please? Years ago, I clerked for Mr. Ciarciaglino, and he told me that one of his tricks of the trade was to turn away from every bench conference and say, 'Thank you, your honor,' real loud" It was an old ruse. Thank the judge loud enough, and the jurors might think you've won whatever dispute brought you to the bench in the first place.

"He just did it, judge," said Andrews. "I don't want to be up here out-shouting him, and I would ask that we just not play that game to begin with."

"Well, I apologize for being courteous," said Ciarciaglino.

It was already close to noon. They had been haggling for almost three hours now. They had not even begun picking a jury. Judge Walker pressed on. He looked out at the crowded courtroom, looked toward all the prospective jurors, and explained what was going to happen. He said the lawyers would be asking them questions, trying to determine whether they could try the case impartially. Before they went any further, though, he read them the grand jury indictment, so they would understand the charges in this case.

"Would Mr. Lewis please stand, face the jurors," Walker said.

Across the room, seated at the defense table with his lawyers, Lewis stood up in his jacket and tie and nodded toward the prospective jurors. He looked bored, as though he was not sure why he had to sit through such rigamarole.

The lawyers introduced themselves, and then Walker reached into a wooden box in front of him. Inside the box were 50 slips of paper, each slip bearing the name of one of the prospective jurors. Walker pulled out 12 slips at random and read aloud the names. Each person took a seat in the jury box.

"Go ahead, Ms. Andrews," said the judge.

The prosecutor began talking to the jurors. A few moments after she started, though, Ciarciaglino interrupted her.

"Excuse me, Ms. Andrews," he said. He was standing again, looking toward the judge. "Your honor, that's not going to work with the lectern there."

Andrews was standing behind a lectern. The lectern was in front of the jury box. Ciarciaglino said it blocked his view of the jury.

Judge Walker stared down from the bench. He looked as though he was trying to remain calm. An edge had begun to creep into his voice. He asked Ciarciaglino what he proposed to do. Ciarciaglino said they could move the lectern. Maybe, the judge replied, Ciarciaglino should move instead.

The defense attorney walked across the room, searching for a better vantage point. There were plenty of chairs to choose from. He chose the empty one at the state's table — Andrews' chair.

"Do you mind?" he said.

Some of the prospective jurors were laughing. Not Andrews. She was glaring at Ciarciaglino. Her head was slightly cocked. Her eyes were narrowed. She held them on her opponent for a few seconds.

"Are you ready, sir?" she said.

"Yes," he said.

Andrews turned back to address the jurors. A few feet away, Ciarciaglino listened. He was the picture of graciousness. He sat in Andrews' chair — at her table, with her notes and files stretched out before him — and smiled. He smiled as though he could not have found a better chair in the entire universe. And the prosecution and the judge had let him have it.

For four days, the lawyers probed the minds of the prospective jurors. They asked hundreds of questions.

Had any of them ever read about this case in the newspaper or seen reports on TV? Did they think they could put aside whatever they'd heard and judge the case on the facts as presented in court? What did they think about the death penalty? Did they have any commitments at work or at home that would make it hard to concentrate in the weeks ahead? Did they know any firefighters? If so, would they be prejudiced, knowing that George Lewis was a firefighter? Did they have any children? If they had a daughter, would they be prejudiced, knowing that Karen Gregory had been someone's daughter? Were they squeamish?

There were going to be unpleasant photos of Gregory's body. Would any of them have a problem seeing such photos? Once they'd seen them, would any of them feel as though they had to convict Lewis?

When both the prosecution and the defense had asked all the questions they wanted, they would go to the bench and request that this juror or that one be bumped off the panel. Sometimes, Judge Walker would say yes. Sometimes no. Out of the 12 people whose names had been the first pulled from the wooden box, 11 were eventually bumped. One of them, a work foreman in seat number four, was bumped because he remembered seeing the series in the Times. An engineer in seat number seven went because he said he had an upcoming exam and would be distracted. Another person went because her son was possibly going to have surgery, making it difficult for her to concentrate. Another went because she had teen-age daughters who needed chauffeuring around and because she had already bought tickets for plays and shows. Given these other commitments, she said she did not think she could be fair and pay close attention to the evidence.

"Which one is she?" said Walker.

"The chubby," Ciarciaglino said softly. "Number two."

The judge called out the woman's name. "Would you step down, too, please? Thank you, ma'am."

As each prospective juror was excused, Walker reached into the wooden box and pulled out another slip of paper marked with another name. That person would then step into the jury box and take the vacant seat. Then the questions would begin again.

"How are you doing?" Judge Walker said one day to a woman sitting patiently in the jury box. "It's just going to take a few more minutes."

"Really?" said the juror, a retired secretary.

Walker tried to comfort her. "It's difficult for people who are not used to being in courtrooms," he said. "You have to change your thinking in a lot of ways."

***

There were nine courtrooms in the criminal complex. Positioned on walls inside two of them — including Courtroom A — were video cameras.

The cameras were hooked up to video monitors in the public defender's office and the state attorney's office and the bailiffs' office and in the office of the administrative judge. That way, others around the courthouse could watch what was happening in different hearings and trials. If they wanted to switch from one courtroom to the other, they simply flipped a channel.

That week in March, as jury selection in the Lewis case dragged on, the word in the halls was that the channels were turned to Courtroom A: Ciarciaglino was giving a show.

He had begun by seizing Beverly Andrews' chair. Now he appeared to be taking over the jury box. When it was his turn to question the prospective jurors, he'd address them each by name. He'd lean on the lectern and talk about how smart and how good-looking the prosecutors were. He said he hoped the jurors wouldn't hold it against him just because he was "fat" and "old."

(He was only 41.) He said he also hoped they wouldn't hold it against him if he felt the need to keep running up to the bench — he called it "going to the mountain." He told jokes. He grinned. He delivered little speeches about America and patriotism and the law.

He did everything in his power to make the jurors feel comfortable with him. At the same time, he made the prosecutors profoundly uncomfortable. He'd let Andrews get deep into the middle of a sentence, and he'd cut her off and ask to approach the bench. He'd stand in front of the judge and complain that Andrews was interrupting him. One day, as they gathered at the bench, he complained about how she wouldn't sit still.

"Can you ask her to stop jumping up and down like a marionette?" he said.

"I'm intimidating you?" said Andrews. "I'm sorry."

The thing was, Ciarciaglino stood at least a foot taller and was a good 150 pounds heavier than Andrews. When the two of them went up to the bench, she almost disappeared in his shadow. Ciarciaglino's complaint would have been funny if this wasn't a murder trial. But he played it straight, knowing his height and weight would not appear in the written record if the case was appealed. He complained about how tired he was. He complained about how the prosecutors were telling reporters what happened during the bench conferences. And a few days into the proceedings, when he was told to move his motor home from the front of the court complex to the back, he complained about that, too.

Andrews tried to fight back. She argued to the judge that Ciarciaglino's conduct regarding the motor home had been an insult. She said that he and others had held what amounted to a cocktail party out in the parking lot, drinking and laughing in front of the complex, where prospective jurors could see them.

"Judge, let me say something," said Bill Loughery, the other prosecutor, trying to get matters back on track. "Whether Mr. Ciarciaglino's camper is illegally parked has nothing to do with the merits of this case."

Which was absolutely correct. The longer Ciarciaglino had them arguing about his motor home or whether or not Andrews should stay in her seat, the longer he kept them from the question of whether his client was a rapist and a murderer. Meanwhile, as the days passed, Ciarciaglino was fighting to have Karen's friends moved farther and farther from the courtroom. He wasn't satisfied just to have them out of the room. He also didn't want them standing outside the courtroom door, even though Glenda Lewis was standing there as well, peering in.

Ciarciaglino wanted Anita and David out of sight. He said their presence could taint the jurors with emotionalism. So Anita and David were told to not stand by the door. That wasn't good enough, either.

Ciarciaglino complained that Anita was sitting in a chair outside the door, "staring" at the prospective jurors.

"She is five feet outside the door," said Ciarciaglino.

"She is not outside the door," said Loughery.

"I want to avoid any problems," said Judge Walker. "Let's move her away from the door."

The prosecutors asked if Anita and David could watch the jury selection on a video monitor in the state attorney's office, far away from the prospective jurors. Walker said no. He was talking about appeals again. His sentences were starting to jumble together.

"Let me tell you something," he said. "I have been reversed in cases where the law has changed, and you are talking about a death-penalty murder case, and you are talking about five different appeals, and a whole bunch of change, and lawyers have a great imagination in coming up with stuff, if we ever get to that point, and I don't want that type of thing to interfere with the decision."

By the end of one afternoon, Karen's friends had been kicked off the fourth floor.

Ciarciaglino and Paver were constantly approaching the bench, asking for a mistrial or dropping not-so-subtle hints about how easy it would be for the judge to be reversed on appeal. Day after day, they were encouraging Walker's obvious concern that he not have another murder case overturned.

"I think you are picking on me, Mr. Ciarciaglino," said the judge.

"I apologize," said Ciarciaglino.

The issue Walker seemed most worried about was pretrial publicity.

During the jury selection, Ciarciaglino and Paver kept asking for a change of venue, arguing that the impact of the Times' series made it impossible to find a fair jury in Pinellas County. Not that many prospective jurors, it turned out, had read the lengthy stories. Many of those who had seen them said they'd only skimmed or looked at a headline or read a part of the series.

"Candidly," Walker told the lawyers, "I don't think anybody has read the whole series."

Still, the judge wanted to take extra care in making sure Lewis received a fair trial. Early on, he began bumping virtually every prospective juror who had read or seen any part of the series — even those who said they didn't remember what they'd read. In addition, he bumped one juror who had not read the series at all but had heard his wife talking about it. By the afternoon of the fourth day, when the lawyers had finished talking to all 50 of the prospective jurors in the courtroom, they were left with 11 who had not been bumped. Of the other 39, the prosecution counted a total of 11 who had been excused solely because of what they'd seen or heard about the case in pretrial publicity. Some of the remaining 28 had also read or heard about the case. But all of these people were bumped for other reasons as well — scheduling conflicts, their feelings on the death penalty, personal problems that made it difficult to concentrate in court. The lawyers had bumped several without giving a reason, and they still had the right to bump more.

Not that there was any shortage of new faces to fill the jury box.

Walker had arranged for the lawyers to question a second group of prospective jurors. But the judge was still worried. Friday afternoon, late in the fourth day of jury selection, Ciarciaglino and Paver warned him again about the dangers of being overturned. The record of this jury selection, they said, was brimming with possible grounds for reversal.

"Judge," said Paver, "I think that record is pretty big by this time."

"Pretty solid," said Ciarciaglino.

"We have a lot of problems that haven't gone away," said Paver.

Suddenly, in the middle of a discussion about whether to bump one of the jurors, Walker started talking about confessions. None of the lawyers had told him, he said, what Florida law said about confessions.

He had heard somewhere that when a confession is published in the community where a case is to be tried, the trial judge must grant a change of venue. No confession had been printed in the Times series — the series quoted Lewis repeatedly saying he was innocent — but Walker wasn't sure what to think. The series, he pointed out, described several conflicting statementsnts Lewis had made. To Walker, it seemed that reading those articles "rather inescapably" or "generally" led the reader to conclude that Lewis was guilty. Did that mean that publishing the articles was close to publishing a confession? Did that mean if Walker didn't grant a change of venue he'd be reversed?

The prosecution saw what was coming and tried to stop it. Andrews said she didn't know they were going to talk about this now. She'd left her file on this subject in her office, she said. She reminded the judge that he had been careful to make sure they were finding impartial jurors. And the Times, she emphasized, had not printed a confession.

There was no confession to print.

No matter. Walker had made up his mind.

"I'm going to grant the motion for change of venue," he said.

It was all over. The judge had decided that the past four days meant nothing and that everyone would have to start over again with a new trial. Now Karen's friends — including Neverne Covington, who had joined David and Anita in the halls — were allowed into Courtroom A. They sat behind the prosecutors. Anita and Neverne looked dazed. David just stared at Ciarciaglino, Paver and Lewis, who were quietly celebrating at the defense table. Both sides were checking their calendars to see when they could set the new trial date. They were debating where the trial should go.

Ciarciaglino was smiling again. "If we go to Miami," he joked, "do they issue Uzis?"

Walker chuckled. "Not to you."

***

Neville Green, the deputy managing editor of the Times, was sitting in his small, glass-enclosed office on that Friday afternoon when the phone rang. It was a reporter who had been covering the trial, calling with the news of the judge's decision.

Green didn't know what to say. He hung up the phone, stepped out of his office and took the stairs two flights down to the ground floor. He went outside - it was a warm spring afternoon — and walked around the block, wrapped in thought. He did not believe it had been a mistake for the Times to publish its series before the trial. But he felt bad for Karen's friends and family, who had already waited so long for the case to be resolved. When the newspaper had been preparing the series, David Mackey and others had urged that the story be held until after the trial. What if it causes a change of venue, they had asked. Green thought back to how the newspaper had tried to assure the friends.

A change of venue is highly unlikely.

Green and his reporter had predicted — correctly — that the lawyers would find many prospective jurors who had not read the series. But they had not counted on how successfully the defense attorneys would play on Judge Walker's fears of reversal. Now, a case that had already been delayed a couple of times was to be delayed again until it could be moved to another courthouse in another county.

By the time Walker announced his decision, Karen's two brothers, Roy and Mark, had already taken off from work in New York and were driving down for the trial. They had timed the long trip so they would arrive as jury selection was ending. They pulled up to their sister Kim's house in Dunedin on Friday night, just a few hours after the change of venue was granted. The trip, they were told, had been a waste.

Roy and Mark were stunned. So were the others. Ever since the case had begun, they had felt as though they had lost control of their lives. Institutions such as the police and the court system seemed to constantly be making decisions that affected their privacy, their memories, their safety. Now the Times had published a series, against their urging, that had led to a change of venue. Karen's friends and family had had enough.

A few days after the judge's decision, several of them went to the Times to complain. One by one, they told Neville Green and the reporter who had written the series how they felt. They said they still couldn't believe that the Times had published the story before the trial. They said there was no way to describe how painful it was to endure yet another delay. The paper had exploited them and their grief, Roy said.

He had not read the series — he could not bring himself to do it, he said — but it was clear that the articles had gone too far. As far as Roy was concerned, the Times had sunk to the level of the National Enquirer.

Sgt. Larry Tosi was frustrated, too. For a long time now, Tosi had felt that the system was drifting in the wrong direction. There were too many tricks, too many ways for lawyers to obscure the facts. He said he was tired of making solid arrests and then seeing the bad guys back on the street, smirking at him. He talked about quitting and opening a general store in the mountains of Tennessee.

"I wish I could leave tomorrow," he told the other detectives.

One day in December 1986, Tosi had collapsed. He and his wife, Debbie, were at a state park in Hillsborough County, trying to get their minds off the case by camping out for the weekend. Suddenly Larry couldn't breathe. His heart was thumping wildly. He sat down beside their tent. He thought he was about to die.

"I think I'm having a heart attack," he told Debbie. "You better try to go get some help."

An ambulance took him to a nearby hospital. After repeated tests, the doctors decided Larry had suffered a stress attack. He was overweight, he had high blood pressure, and he had developed an ulcer.

Larry went on a diet, tried to quit smoking, tried to take better care of himself. Debbie, who was suffering from stress of her own after having been friends with Glenda Lewis, began having attacks, too. She hyperventilated so badly that Larry took her to a hospital.

The murder was never far from Tosi's mind. So many unanswered questions remained. Tosi still wondered about the state of Karen's clothing when her body was found. She was wearing a black teddy — a one-piece, body-fitting type of lingerie that hangs by straps from the shoulders and fastens at the crotch with snaps. The teddy was not snapped, though. It was down off Karen's shoulders and bunched around her waist. Pulled up near her breasts, meanwhile, was a white T-shirt.

The combination of the two pieces of clothing was odd. Some women wear teddies to bed, others wear T-shirts. But they don't usually wear both unless it's cold — and the murder had taken place on a warm evening in May. Women do sometimes wear a teddy beneath their clothes during the daytime, like an undergarment. But earlier on the night of the murder, Karen had gone to dinner at Neverne Covington's house, and Neverne remembered that Karen had been wearing the T-shirt but not the teddy.

Joan Wood, Pinellas County's medical examiner, had talked about the arrangement of the clothing during her deposition. Dr. Wood said the arrangement of the clothes suggested that Karen had been wearing the teddy over the T-shirt. That was strange, too. Even if someone were to wear both, the usual way would be with the teddy under the T-shirt.

Tosi had never been sure what to make of all this. He knew that Lewis liked lingerie. Glenda had told Debbie. Larry thought about how the black teddy was bunched around Karen's waist. Was it possible that she had been slipping on the teddy, getting ready for bed, and had simply not taken off the T-shirt yet? Or what if the whole thing was connected to Lewis' enthusiasm for nighties? What if Lewis had forced her, Tosi wondered, to put on the black teddy?

Then there was the question of why Lewis — if the killer was indeed Lewis — had gone back to Karen's house the night after the murder. Did he want to wipe away his fingerprints? Had he left something in the house that would have identified him? Or had he returned to steal something? It happens in some murders. Sometimes, the killer takes an object that reminds him of the victim — a "souvenir" of the crime. It had never been proved that anything had been stolen from Karen's house.

But at the beginning of the investigation, David Mackey had reported that another teddy of Karen's — a white one, with lace in front — was missing. Karen had bought it for herself as a 36th birthday present, shortly before she was killed, and had shown it to David. After the murder, he'd noticed it was gone. It was possible that before the murder Karen had returned it. But maybe not. Could the killer have taken it?

***

It was the last week in April 1987. The trial was now scheduled to be heard in Bartow, the seat of Polk County, about 35 miles east of Tampa. It was to begin June 1, just five weeks away. Sgt. Tosi was at the Gulfport police station when a woman came in to pick up a report.

She and Tosi started talking. The woman said she knew Tosi. When Tosi had trouble placing her, she reminded him that she and her son and daughter had once lived in Gulfport, on 53rd Street, across from the city's police and fire stations. Her daughter's name, she said, was Tonja. Tonja Dishong.

Suddenly Tosi remembered. A year or so before, he had been looking for a young woman named Tonja. In the summer of 1984, immediately after the murder, Lewis had dated a girl by that name who lived across from the fire station. Tosi had wanted to talk to her, but she'd moved away and no one had been able to remember her last name. He had never managed to track her down. Now, he asked the mother if her daughter had ever known George Lewis.

Yes, said the woman.

That was it. Tosi had not found Tonja. Tonja had found him.

On May 6, she came to the station for an interview. She was a young woman, just 19. She had been 16 when she dated Lewis, who was then 22.

She was also extremely small. She weighed 93 pounds and had a 21-inch waistline that her friends envied. Sometimes people asked her if she was anorexic.

Tosi asked Tonja about the summer when she and Lewis were together.

Tosi asked her many questions. He wanted to know, for one thing, whether George had ever given her anything. Tonja said yes. In fact, he had given her a nightie not long after the murder, as a present for her 17th birthday. It was a white teddy, with lace in the front. There had been a problem with it, though. It was too big on her. Not that Tonja had complained. She thought it was sweet that George had been thinking of her.

Tosi asked Tonja if she still had the teddy.

Yes.

He asked if she would bring it to him.

Yes.

A Cry in the Night, Part 4: Tonja 04/10/08 [Last modified: Friday, April 11, 2008 1:29pm]

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