DENVER (CBS4) – Jurors spared the life of Dexter Lewis on Thursday when they decided the convicted murderer would be sentenced to life in prison rather than face the death penalty.
Screams from the killer’s family filled the courtroom when the judge announced the jury’s decision.
Lewis, 25, remained without expression throughout his capital murder trial. Lewis was convicted Aug. 10 of five counts of murder for stabbing five people to death in a bar robbery in 2012 that netted $170.
“This was a great day for justice and we are not upset one bit about the verdict in this case,” said District Attorney Chief Deputy Joe Morales.
Lewis was found guilty of killing five people inside Fero’s Bar & Grill on South Colorado Boulevard and then setting the building on fire in October 2012. Prosecutors say Lewis and the other co-defendants went to the bar to rob it but it turned into a brutal murder scene.
The Denver DA had sought the death penalty for Lewis but Morales said the jury’s decision needs to be respected.
“No criticism needs to come from anybody who did not sit day in and day out in that courtroom… period,” said Morales.
Lewis was found guilty five counts of first-degree murder after deliberation, five counts of first-degree murder-felony murder, five counts of criminal attempt to commit robbery and one count of arson.
None of the victims’ family members spoke after they left court on Thursday but Morales spoke for them, “They accept the jury’s verdict, they knew all along this could be a possibility.”
The two other co-defendants, brothers Lynell and Joseph Hill, pleaded guilty to the killings two years ago after agreeing to testify against Lewis.
The victims include 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. Fero’s daughter cried in court as the verdict was read.
The defense says Denver police initially had no witnesses and suspects in the murders. Then walked in a confidential informant from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Demarea Harris, who was at the crime scene with the three defendants.
There are three phases of sentencing in the case. In the first phase the jury decided that there were aggravating factors in the murders, making Lewis eligible for the death penalty. In the second phase the jury had to decide if there were mitigating factors.
Defense attorneys urged the jury to consider Lewis’ traumatic childhood before deciding whether he deserved to die. The defense spoke about a history of physical and sexual abuse, drug and alcohol use, and frequent violence within the family; but also as part of gang activity. The defense said it all happened while the defendant was a baby and toddler.
Lewis’ lawyers stated nothing excuses the murders of five people, but Lewis did not choose to be born into a life of lawlessness and chaos.
Prosecutors also wrapped up their closing arguments Thursday afternoon. They focused on the choice Lewis had to commit the crimes and the reality that not everyone who has a difficult childhood follows a similar path.
The jury decided there were mitigating factors and chose to sentence him to life in prison.
In the third phase the judge will decide on the length of the sentence for Lewis.
Earlier this month, a separate jury in suburban Arapahoe County rejected the death penalty for another mass murderer — Aurora movie theater shooter James Holmes, who killed 12 people.
In the Holmes case, the defense argued not that Holmes was abused as a boy but that he was mentally ill.
Under Colorado law, juries must unanimously agree to impose death sentences. In this case, at least one juror sided with Lewis’ defense team that his abusive childhood was a mitigating factor in the case.
No Denver jury has sentenced someone to death since 1986.
Colorado has not executed anyone since 1997.