Jury finds man guilty of misdemeanor

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Eric Lewis not guilty of felonies

BUCKHANNON — A jury found a man guilty of a lesser charge of battery but not guilty of more serious charges in a verdict returned Friday afternoon.

Eric Wayne Lewis, 42, was on trial for domestic battery third offense and malicious assault, both felonies, stemming from an April 15 incident in which he was alleged to have beaten the victim in a vehicle before she was able to escape and drive back to her mother’s residence.

The victim never testified and did not show up to court, even though she had  been subpoenaed.

However, 911 calls placed by the victim and body cam footage from the sheriff’s department were admitted into evidence. There were also pictures of the victim’s injuries that were admitted into evidence.

The 911 calls were the last piece of evidence introduced by prosecuting attorney David Godwin before the state rested its case Friday morning.

Defense attorney Dennis Willett then rested his case without calling any witnesses.

Willett moved to dismiss the domestic battery charge due to what he said was a lack of evidence that would establish a domestic relationship.

“It’s specific about what kind of relationship it has to be,” he said, referencing state code. “The only witness who offered anything was [ the victim’s mother].If you apply that to the definitions, it doesn’t add up.”

“There has to be more than that,” he added. “We don’t believe the state has introduced sufficient evidence.”

He also moved for acquittal of the malicious assault charge, saying the state had failed to establish enough evidence.

“There are only two people out there who know what really happened,” Willett said. “Mr. Lewis and [the victim].  Again, she was not here to identify this gentleman as her attacker. That being the case, there is no other evidence to identify him as the attacker.”

A screwdriver that the victim told officers was used to stab her above the eye was also not located.

“When we look at the evidence, there was no screwdriver,” Willett said. “It hasn’t been admitted. There is no medical evidence indicating that any specific wounds were caused by a screwdriver. There were a lot of photographs of bruises here and bruises there and bruises that came up a couple days later. I think we are getting into an area of speculation and conjecture.”

Further, the victim did not name Lewis in the two 911 calls she placed and it was four minutes into talking with officers at her mother’s residence that she raised the name Eric Lewis.

However, circuit judge Kurt Hall sided with the state, saying malice can be inferred from the  facts and circumstances surrounding the case. He did not dismiss either charge.

In Godwin’s closing statement to the jury, he discussed the victim not coming to testify.

“The victim was served with a subpoena and failed to appear,” he said. “Both parties were denied the opportunity to ask her questions about what she knew. That’s unfortunate.

“Your job is to make a decision based on the evidence that you did hear,” he continued. “Fortunately, there is considerable evidence that demonstrated the defendant’s guilt that was available and has been admitted and you now see it.”

Holding up one of the pictures of the victim’s face taken by investigating officer Cpl. B.K. Wright, Godwin said, “This is the woman’s face a few minutes after she was brutally beaten by her boyfriend,  Eric Lewis, including the laceration above her eye.”

During his closing statement, Willett said, “The state has this theory, but the very one person who can answer that didn’t have enough interest to come here and sit down and tell you.”

Willett speculated that the spots on the victim’s arm could have been consistent with intravenous drug use.

“Is that what happened out there at Heavener Grove?” he said. “Is that what Eric meant by, ‘I screwed up?’ I think that inference can be drawn from this. I don’t know who beat this woman. The question is whether or not it was Eric Lewis and whether or not he did it maliciously and intentionally or whether or not he did it in a domestic?”

Willett cast doubt on the relationship between the victim and Lewis as then-boyfriend and girlfriend.

He again pointed out that the screwdriver was never found. Two screwdrivers were found in the truck by law enforcement but neither had blood on them.

“Something happened to this woman,” Willett said. “She was injured and beaten. I just don’t see any malice here.”

The jury began meeting shortly before noon and asked for a definition of battery.

After conversing with the attorneys, Hall said he did not want to provide just the definition of battery but would provide all the jury instructions.

After receiving the instructions, the jury deliberated for a short time more before returning with their verdict.

After the trial, Godwin declined to comment.

Willett, who was a court-appointed attorney in the case, said, “I think it was well-reasoned by the jury. Given the evidentiary issues that we had in the case, I’m not convinced the state presented sufficient evidence to even convict him of battery, but I respect the jurors’ wisdom in that regard. I think they did well in analyzing what was before them and reaching a verdict that purports with the law in that case.”

Lewis remains held in the regional jail.

A pre-sentence investigation was ordered and sentencing is tentatively penciled in for Monday, Feb. 5 at 1:30 p.m. Lewis faces up to a year for the battery conviction.

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