VERDICT: Jury reaches verdict in Marty Lewis trial
COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) - The jury in the trial of Marty Lewis, who was arrested on drug charges as Fair Bluff's police chief, reached a verdict in Columbus County Superior Court Wednesday afternoon.
First, the jury found Lewis not guilty of cocaine possession.
He was however, found guilty of selling and delivering oxycodone and possession with the intent to sell.
Furthermore, the jury found Lewis guilty of conspiracy to traffic.
Lewis was sentenced to a minimum of seven years in prison, fined $100,000, and will be held without bond.
Prosecutor Chris Thomas said the verdict shouldn't be considered a black eye for officers.
"We of course are very proud of law enforcement in Columbus County," Thomas said. "We enjoy working with them. We trust them to keep the citizens of Columbus County safe. Unfortunately, Fair Bluff had a chief who was not doing that."
Fair Bluff town council fired Lewis in May 2012 after he was charged with:
- conspiring to traffic opium and heroin
- conspiring to traffic cocaine-felony possession of cocaine
- felony delivery of a schedule two control substance
- possession with intent to manufacture sell and deliver schedule two controlled substance
District Attorney Jon David said Lewis made a drug transaction while in uniform the day he was arrested.
Prosecutors also said Lewis staged a gun robbery inside the police department in 2010 to cover-up missing evidence from drug seizures.
Prior to closing arguments, Judge Tom Lock dismissed a juror who was visibly upset after realizing that she had an indirect connection with Rita Capps, Lewis' fiancé who testified Tuesday.
The juror said her son has a professional relationship with one of Capps' daughters.
When Lock asked if the connection would affect her ability to be impartial, the juror said, "I feel I need to step down."
Following her dismissal, no alternate jurors remained because another juror was dismissed during the first day of testimony for nodding off and snoring in court.
Defense Attorney Mike Ramos went first in closing arguments, reminding jurors that it's the state's burden to prove Lewis' guilt. The former police chief took the stand even though he didn't have to, his attorney noted.
Ramos reiterated his argument that Lewis was acting in his official capacity as police chief, conducting a drug investigation in a small department with few resources.
"It's not the SBI," Ramos said. "That's not the lens you look through to determine what was reasonable in this case. It's not the ATF. It is not the Columbus County Sheriff's Department. It's the Fair Bluff Police Department."
Responding to the prosecution's earlier criticism of Lewis letting drugs remain on the street as part of his supposed investigation, Ramos noted that the SBI let drug dealer James Scott remain free while they mounted their case against the chief.
Ramos also reminded jurors that Lewis disputes the SBI's account of his post-arrest interview, during which agents testified the chief made no mention of his investigation and said he was ashamed.
Going before the jury, Prosecutor Chris Thomas pointed out that Lewis produced no records of the investigation he said he was conducting and that he even urged Tamika Packer to delete their text conversations.
"If he was running an investigation, wouldn't that be the one record that anybody could keep," Thomas asked.
He reminded the jury of evidence showing that Lewis required his officers at the police department to properly document evidence and keep records.
The prosecutor noted that Lewis is facing conspiracy to traffic drugs, which requires that jurors find sufficient evidence that the former chief agreed to commit a criminal act involving at least two people.
Speaking of his witness James Scott, Thomas said, "What kind of man tells you from the witness stand that he spent $400,000 on crack, it ruined his life, it destroyed everything he did, and then tells you that he bought crack everyday for his girlfriend? What kind of man sells that kind of poison after he knows what it can do? The kind of man that Chief Lewis chose to associate with in Fair Bluff and let everybody know about it, including officers he worked with."
As for Lewis' testimony that the investigation was an example of having to work in the trenches, Thomas said, "He wasn't in the trenches. He was in the gutter."
The defense called Lewis' fiancé, Rita Capps, to the stand Tuesday afternoon.
Capps, the last person to leave Lewis' home before it was searched following his arrest, said she saw nothing that resembled cocaine. Officers say they found the drug in Lewis' bedroom while executing a search warrant.
Capps testified that Lewis told her about the investigation he was conducting into Town Councilman Jack Meares. She also said she was aware of the relationship between her fiancé, Town Clerk Tamika Packer, and James Scott.
Not only did she know about the racy photos Packer sent Lewis, Capps said she gave him an external hard drive for Christmas so he could store the photos.
"I encouraged Mr. Lewis, or Marty, that he needed to keep better records," Capps said. "I feared for his life."
Capps, a registered nurse who teaches at Southeastern Community College, said she never gave Lewis drugs.
Next, the defense called several character witnesses.
Ethel Jordan of Tabor City said Lewis is "like a brother" and credits him with saving her husband's life during a medical emergency.
Ann Ferguson of Chadbourn, wife of former Columbus County Sheriff Jimmy Ferguson, said he knew Lewis since he was a little boy. Ferguson said her husband wouldn't have hired and kept Lewis on the force if he didn't follow the law.
Bryan Kevin Harrelson of Whiteville, said he grew up with Lewis and attends church with him at Peace Baptist. He testified that he's never had a reason to doubt Lewis' honesty.
Frederick Dobbin, a student at Southeastern Community College, said he met Lewis through Capps, who was his instructor. Dobbin also attends church with Lewis, who paid for his kerosene last winter.
"If it weren't for Marty, me and my wife probably would have froze in the house," Dobbin said.
William "Chip" Hannah, Lewis' pastor at Peace Baptist Church, took the stand next, saying Lewis attends church every week.
Hannah said he knew Lewis to be trustworthy, law abiding and helpful to others.
"Would it change your opinion of Mr. Lewis' character, if you found out he was requesting naked photos from a married woman?" asked Heath Nance, assistant district attorney.
"No sir," Hannah responded.
After the defense rested its case, prosecutors called one rebuttal witness, Lt. Steven Worthington of the Columbus County Sheriff's Office.
Worthington, who oversees vice and narcotics, testified that Lewis kept case files, inventoried evidence, and tracked money when employed at the sheriff's office.
Prosecutors asked Worthington to explain procedures for various aspects of drug investigations, including meeting with informants, documenting undercover drug buys and establishing a chain of custody for evidence.
Worthington testified that he didn't recall Lewis ever asking the sheriff's office to assist Fair Bluff police with drug investigations.
After jurors were sent home for the day, Defense Attorney Mike Ramos asked Judge Tom Lock to dismiss all charges due to lack of evidence. Lock denied the request.
Both sides will present closing arguments Wednesday morning.
Marty Lewis took the stand in his own trial Tuesday morning as the first defense witness.
Lewis explained that he worked at the ALE, Columbus County Sheriff's Office and Tabor City Police Department before starting as Fair Bluff chief in 2006.
He said the department had as many as three full-time officers and one part-time officer, although it was short staffed about half the time. He said low pay made it hard to keep officers.
Lewis explained that he worked the day shift, with responsibilities including patrolling the streets, overseeing investigations and handling administrative matters.
The budget included no money for undercover buys, he said, but explained a town councilman once gave him $300 to use.
The former chief said known drug dealer James Scott told him that on several occasions he sold pain pills to Jack Meares, a local pharmacist and member of town council.
Meares, who was not called for testimony, denies the claim.
Lewis also testified that former Town Clerk Tamika Packer told him that Meares would provide her with pain pills when her prescription would run out.
Armed with that information, Lewis said he decided to launch an investigation into Meares as well as possible misuse of funds at the town of Fair Bluff.
Lewis claimed that he began using Scott as an informant without telling him. Lewis said he bought pain pills from Scott and sold them to former Town Clerk Tamika Packer as part of his investigation.
"I wasn't acting undercover because everybody knew me," Lewis said. "The players involved knew me. I had to get on their level. I had to get in the trenches as some law enforcement officers say and play their game. And this is one of the many hats that I wore."
The former chief said he made no money from the drug transactions, noting that he was just a "liaison."
Assistant District Attorney Chris Thomas asked why Lewis didn't tell the SBI he was working with Packer and Scott when he was arrested. Lewis said he didn't identify Scott to protect his safety and because he didn't want the case transferred to another agency.
"I didn't want to basically let them get the credit," Lewis said.
Lewis testified that his "sexting" with Packer was part of the role play the investigation required.
Upon further cross examination, Lewis said he didn't have a case file on the investigation but that he kept up with how many pills he sold Packer by writing her initials and the number of pills next to the date in his Daytimer. That calendar was not presented in court.
Lewis said he was wary of keeping notes in part because the police department had been broken into in 2010.
The former chief said he never sold pills to Scott but did give him Cialis that he ordered on the internet without a prescription.
As for his post-arrest interview with the SBI, Lewis said an agent read him a "summation" and that he disagreed with parts.
Earlier in the trial, agents testified that Lewis said he was ashamed for what he had done. On the stand, Lewis said he told them he was ashamed for being arrested doing his job.
Less than two days after testifying against former chief Marty Lewis, Fair Bluff police arrested James Scott, 65, on charges including felony possession of cocaine, possession of drug paraphernalia, and maintaining a dwelling used for keeping or selling a controlled substance.
Scott was one several people arrested at his home on Academy St. just before 1 a.m. Saturday, according to Capt. Christopher Cotton of the Fair Bluff Police Department.
Cotton said he couldn't get into details of the arrest without compromising the ongoing investigation. The Fair Bluff Police Department did not receive assistance from other agencies, Cotton said.
Scott was released from the Columbus County Detention Center just before 11:30 a.m. Saturday on a $16,000 bond.
Thursday, Scott testified that he sold pain pills to Lewis once or twice a week for several years, meeting in various locations – including a graveyard – and often delivering the pills to the Fair Bluff Police Department.
Scott said Lewis loaned him money that he would use to buy crack cocaine for close friend Trista Reinhardt.
Scott also said Lewis sold him Viagra and Cialis, usually about 60-100 pills at a time, that he would re-sell.
SBI agent Steve Smith said he didn't recall Lewis ever asking for the bureau's assistance with any drug cases in Fair Bluff.
The day Lewis was arrested, Smith said he used a device to download text message, photos and other records from Tamika Packer's phone, with her consent.
During cross examination by the Defense Attorney Mike Ramos, Lewis said he didn't record his interview with Packer. Thursday, Ramos questioned another SBI agent about why she didn't record Lewis' post-arrest interview.
Patty Carroll, a forensic analyst with SBI, took the stand next. Ramos tried to have her analysis of seized drugs dismissed because he questioned the chain of custody, saying the items weren't sent to the lab for nearly a year. Judge Lock ruled the evidence was admissible.
Carroll testified that the pills Lewis provided Packer on the day of his arrest in May 2012 contained hydrocodone. She also said the rock-like substance found in Lewis' home was crack cocaine.
Next, the prosecution called SBI Agent Kellie Farrell, who largely echoed the earlier testimony of Agent Adrienne Harvey, who said that Lewis, during his post-arrest interview, indicated that James Scott was not acting as an informant for the Fair Bluff Police Department.
Assistant District Attorney Chris Thomas asked if Lewis said that Packer was the target of a police investigation. Farrell responded no.
Upon cross examination by the defense, Farrell acknowledged that the SBI didn't search a laptop it seized from Lewis' office until about ten days ago. Farrell said she could not explain the reason for the delay because she was transferred within the SBI shortly after Lewis was arrested.
The prosecution rested its case following Farrell's testimony.
With the jury out of the courtroom, Ramos asked Judge Tom Lock to dismiss all charges against Lewis saying if the alleged drug transactions occurred they constituted multiple conspiracies, not a single conspiracy as the prosecution alleges. He also claimed insufficient evidence to prove the weight of drugs required for the charges. Lock denied the motion.
The defense will present testimony when the trial resumes Tuesday. Ramos said Lewis will testify.
Judge Tom Lock read a statement to the jury, agreed to by the defense and prosecution, that Trista Reinhardt, who testified Thursday afternoon, did not have a formal plea agreement but was told that if she testified against Marty Lewis she could expect "favorable treatment."
Then the prosecution called former Fair Bluff Town Clerk Tamika Packer to the stand. Packer testified that she had became addicted to Percocet after being prescribed the pain killer on account of Fibromyalgia. She said she needed more of the pills than her doctor was willing to prescribe, so she approached Lewis about getting more for her.
Packer said she felt comfortable approaching Lewis with the request because he met almost every day in town hall with known drug dealer James Scott.
Packer said she didn't have to pay Lewis for the pills the first time, but after that gave him $180 for 20 pills. She testified to taking up to 20 pills a day.
Her relationship with the police chief wasn't sexual, Packer said, but she sent him naked photos of herself at his request for fear that he would stop providing her with pills if she resisted. Packer was married and living with her husband at the time.
She testified that Lewis said he considered planting cocaine in a uniform belonging to a prison guard who was dating his ex-girlfriend, Melanie Cox.
"I was afraid," Packer said. "I didn't want to be on his bad side at all."
Shawna Brown, former manager of Lovett's Auto Plaza – a gas station in Fair Bluff, testified that she saw Lewis give Scott pills at the store in early 2012. She said Lewis was on duty and driving a burgundy police car.
SBI Agent Ernest Darroch described seizing a laptop computer, desk adapter and pills from Lewis' office following his arrest, as well as a "rock-like white substance" from a dresser in his home.
The prosecution is expected to call three more witnesses, all SBI agents.
Defense Attorney Mike Ramos continued his cross examination of former SBI agent Adrienne Harvey, who admitted she made a mistake by not photographing the location of evidence she seized from Lewis' office in the police department following his arrest.
She also acknowledged not documenting in her notes all the questions she asked Lewis during his post-arrest interview.
The prosecution called self-described "drug runner" James Scott to the stand. The 65-year-old Fair Bluff man admitted to smoking crack for 13 years, but said he's been clean for the last nine years. He described Lewis as a close friend.
Scott said he sold pain pills to Lewis once or twice a week for several years, meeting in various locations – including a graveyard – and often delivering the pills to the Fair Bluff Police Department.
Scott said Lewis loaned him money that he would use to buy crack cocaine for Trista Reinhardt, who he called a close friend but who Harvey had previously described as his girlfriend.
Scott also said Lewis sold him Viagra and Cialis, usually about 60-100 pills at a time, that he would re-sell.
During cross examination, Ramos went after Scott's credibility, rattling off his lengthy criminal background and noting that he's facing a dramatically reduced prison sentence in exchange for testifying against Lewis.
Reinhardt took the stand next, explaining that she lives with Scott but that they are not romantically involved.
She said Scott would talk with Lewis on speaker phone and that she often heard them discussing drugs and pills.
Reinhardt said Scott once asked her to put a bag of 20 or 25 pills in a truck outside their home in Fair Bluff so Lewis could pick them up.
"I told him I didn't want to, and he told me if I didn't I would have to find someplace else to live," Reinhardt said. "At the time, I didn't have anywhere to go."
She testified that she put the pills in the truck and that Lewis retrieved them.
Reinhardt said that she would often accompany Scott, but stay in the car, when he delivered pills to Lewis at the police department.
Lewis loaned Scott money every week and that the chief knew it was used to buy crack for her, the woman testified.
Reinhardt, who had a suspended driver's license and invalid tags, said she would call Lewis everyday to see which police officer was on duty so she would know if she could drive without fear of being stopped.
During cross examination by the defense, Reinhardt said she was testifying "to do the right thing" – insisting she wasn't aware of a plea deal that would reduce her sentence for drug trafficking.
Ramos also questioned Reinhardt's memory. She acknowledged that Scott provided her with $150 of crack cocaine for her personal use each day for about six months.
Adrienne Harvey, former SBI agent, resumed her testimony by reading aloud several of Marty Lewis' past-due bills, including notices from a gas company, cell phone provider and jewelry store. She testified Wednesday that Lewis said financial problems led him to sell Viagra and Cialis pills to a drug dealer.
With the jury outside the courtroom, attorneys argued over whether the prosecution could show jurors 50 8x10" nude photos of Tamika Packer, the former Fair Bluff town clerk. Prosecutors say Packer gave Lewis the selfies in exchange for pills. The judge decided to allow jurors to see 32 of the photos.
Harvey also testified that in Lewis' post-arrest interview, the chief said that he did not consider drug dealers James Scott and Earnest Smith to be informants, undercutting the defense's argument that Lewis' involvement with drugs was part of his job as police chief.
While cross examining Harvey, Defense Attorney Mike Ramos questioned why the SBI didn't record Lewis' interview, as it had recorded drug buys and even the police chief's arrest and transport. Harvey responded that it was not the agency's policy to record such interviews and that most of the interviews connected with the case were not recorded.
In response to a question from Ramos, Harvey testified that she did not know if Lewis' office was searched May 8, 2012 - the day he was arrested. She also acknowledged there was no inventory of items seized that day.
Former SBI agent Adrienne Harvey continued to describe the evidence investigators gathered against former Lewis leading up to his May 2012 arrest.
Harvey testified that Lewis told her that he didn't have a sexual relationship with Packer, the town clerk, he was allegedly providing with prescription medication he received from James Scott, who would buy it from another person, often in Chadbourn.
Scott would deliver the pills to Lewis in various locations, including the Fair Bluff Police Department, Harvey said.
The agent also testified that Lewis said he sold Viagra and Cialis pills through Scott because he was having financial problems. Lewis reportedly told the agent his house was at risk of foreclosure and he was having trouble making child support payments.
Harvey said Scott's girlfriend, Trista Reinhardt, had a suspended license and would text the police chief to see which officers were on duty, presumably to see if it was safe for her to drive.
Lewis said his fiancé, Rita Capps, a registered nurse, didn't know he was providing pills to Packer and didn't supply any of the medication, Harvey testified.
Prosecutors then asked the former SBI agent to read from numerous text messages between Lewis, Scott, Capps and Packer, among others.
The messages included sexually suggestive conversations between the former police chief and clerk, who – according to the texts – handed off pills in locations including near a church and West Columbus High School.
In opening arguments, Prosecutor Chris Thomas said the state will present evidence showing Lewis sold and delivered drugs as chief of the Fair Bluff Police Department and that he tipped off local drug dealers when officers from other law enforcement agencies were in town.
"It's good to be friends with the chief of police, especially if you're a drug dealer, especially if the chief of police knows you're a drug dealer and especially if the chief of police is willing to pick-up and deliver your drugs to other people on a weekly basis," Thomas said.
"What's it not about is whether Mr. Lewis, Marty Lewis, possessed, delivered, controlled substances," said Defense Attorney Mike Ramos. "He did, and he's authorized me to tell you that. All the evidence is going to show that. Why? Because he's the chief of police of Fair Bluff."
Ramos said Lewis possessed drugs as part of his work enforcing crime in an under funded, understaffed department that couldn't afford undercover buys and officers.
The prosecution's first witness, former Fair Bluff police officer Ricky Soles, testified that Lewis and known drug dealer James Scott "seemed like best friends." Soles said the two men met frequently in the police department and that Lewis loaned Scott money.
Former SBI agent Adrienne Harvey said on the stand that phone records revealed Lewis and Scott communicated nearly every day, sometimes multiple times a day.
She also said the records indicated Lewis was in a romantic relationship with former Fair Bluff Town Clerk Tamika Packer, who Lewis provided with drugs.
Ultimately, the SBI would arrest Lewis May 8, 2012 with Packer's help.
As of 4:30 p.m., the prosecution and defense had agreed on twelve jurors and one alternate. A potential second alternate was being questioned. The state is expected to begin presenting its case Wednesday morning. Jurors were told to report at 9:30 a.m.
In addition to knowing Lewis, many prospective jurors said they were acquainted with Chip Hannah, pastor of Peace Baptist Church in Whiteville, who is expected to testify.
Jury selection, which began Monday, resumed Tuesday morning. Before breaking for lunch, the prosecution and defense had agreed on seven jurors.
The fact that many in the jury pool knew Lewis slowed the process. Prior to serving as Fair Bluff's police chief, Lewis worked for the Tabor City Police Department and Columbus County Sheriff's Office. He was also a part-time instructor at Southeastern Community College.
A potential juror was excused after explaining that her husband had worked under Lewis as an auxiliary police officer in Fair Bluff.
Another woman was sent home after she disclosed that Lewis arrested her son on drug charges.
A man who said he had taught Lewis in Sunday school was also excused.
In his questioning of potential jurors, Heath Nance, assistant district attorney, wanted to make sure they believed that police officers should be treated like everyone else under the law.
Meanwhile, Defense Attorney Mike Ramos – perhaps foreshadowing his later argument – asked potential jurors if they knew that police officers could legally posses, sell and traffic drugs as part of enforcing the law, just as they are allowed to speed and enter private property with a warrant.
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