DENVER (AP/CBS4) – Opening statements began Monday in the murder trial of Dexter Lewis, who is charged with stabbing five people to death in a Denver bar, marking the start of a rare death penalty case in Denver.
It’s the first time Denver prosecutors have tried a death penalty case since 2001, and the first time District Attorney Mitch Morrissey has sought to execute a defendant since he was sworn in in 2005.
A jury was chosen last week out of a pool of nearly 600 people, the Denver Post reported.
Lewis, 25, is charged with killing five people inside Fero’s Bar & Grill on South Colorado Boulevard in October 2012 and then setting the building on fire. Two co-defendants, brothers Lynell and Joseph Hill, pleaded guilty to the killings in July 2013 in an agreement to testify against Lewis. They said he had accompanied Lewis to rob the bar.
One of Lewis’ cellmates in jail also came forward to police to testify, disturbed by what Lewis allegedly disclosed about the killings.
Joseph Hill pleaded guilty to five counts of first-degree felony murder, and his brother pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and arson.
Prosecutors say it was Lewis who went into a rage, delivering the fatal stabs that killed all five victims. The prosecution says a confidential informant for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Demarea Harris, was with Lewis the night of the crime and led police to the suspects.
“He describes the horror that was that night … over and over and over. (Harris) says the defendant was in a rage.” prosecutor Joseph Morales said. “How he killed those people, how he just lost it … and he said, ‘When I did the first one I had to do the rest. I couldn’t leave any witnesses.’ ”
The victims included 53-year-old Young Suk Fero, an Aurora woman who owned the bar; Daria M. Pohl, 21, of Denver; Kellene Fallon, 44, of Denver; Ross Richter, 29, of Overland Park, Kansas; and Tereasa Beesley, 45, of Denver.
Lewis also is charged with trying to hire a former prison cellmate to kill several witnesses who were expected to testify against him.
The defense says the jury will hear from the confidential informant who first came forward who will say the Hill brothers allegedly started the killings.
“A witness called by the prosecution will come into this courtroom, take the witness stand, and testify under oath that that’s not true … Demarea Harris, the witness they trust so much,” Lewis’ defense attorney said.
The last time a Denver jury chose to execute someone was in 1986, when Frank Rodriguez was convicted in the rape and murder of Lorraine Martelli.
Colorado has three men on death row, but the state has not executed anyone since 1997.
In 2013, Gov. John Hickenlooper granted an indefinite reprieve to death row inmate Nathan Dunlap, essentially putting a hold on executions while he is governor.
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