HOUSTON - Prosecutors are urging jurors to chose death for convicted cop killer Harlem Lewis. Opening the punishment phase of his trial Monday morning, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson told jurors, "This is not the first time he has been in trouble with the law. This is not the first time he's handled a weapon."
Lewis, 23, was convicted Friday of capital murder in the shooting deaths of Bellaire Police Corporal Jimmie Norman, 53, and Terry Taylor, 66, a body shop owner who tried to help Norman arrest Lewis for a traffic violation on Christmas Eve 2012.
The choice for the jury now is to either sentence Lewis to death by injection or life in prison without parole. To get the death penalty, the jurors must find that Lewis would be a continuing threat to society even behind bars and that there is no mitigating evidence to warrant a life sentence.
Prosecutors began putting on witnesses Monday in an effort to show that Lewis was essentially a career criminal in the two years leading up to the murders of Norman and Taylor.
Anderson said Lewis had been involved in a series of armed robberies, apartment burglaries, motor vehicle break-ins and a home invasion.
A high school friend, Bernard Lewis (no relation), testified that Lewis wielded a gun during robberies at a bus stop at the intersection of W. Bellfort and S. Gessner in 2011. He also said Harlem Lewis and others burglarized a truck at the University of Houston Downtown campus in September 2011.
He said Lewis took part in an apartment burglary in February 2012 and a second attempted burglary that became a home invasion when Lewis and an accomplice kicked in a door, and discovered the woman who lived there was at home.
Bernard Lewis, who said he was acting as lookout, heard the woman scream, "Please don't hurt me."
In December 2011, Bernard Lewis testified that he, Harlem Lewis and a third man began selling marijuana.
Prosecutors say Lewis was arrested in Liberty County on a marijuana possession charge and was free on bond when he was arrested in Harris County for misdemeanor theft. He served six days in jail on the theft charge. That prompted Liberty County to revoke his bond. An arrest warrant had been issued, but not served when Norman stopped him in Bellaire.
"He had a taste of jail and he was not going to go back," Anderson told jurors.
Lewis' attorneys are urging jurors to show mercy and sentence Lewis to life without parole. Defense attorney Patrick McCann pointed out that Lewis has never been charged with the crimes alleged by his friends and that they are all facing prosecution.
"You're going to see the primary source of the state's evidence are people who are hoping for treatment for their own criminal conduct," McCann told the jury.
He said defense experts will testify that Lewis has an IQ of 76, barely above mental retardation range. McCann insists Lewis would not be a continuing threat.
"He has strong family support, he has a child, he has a reason to sit there and behave in prison, and that's a reason to grant mercy that we think makes sense," McCann said.
The jury also heard recordings of phone calls made by Lewis from the Harris County Jail while he was awaiting trial. In several recordings, his girlfriend and mother of his child repeatedly accused him of beating and choking her, on one occasion giving her a black eye.
"I remember you beat me and I passed out," she said.
Prosecutors will continue calling witnesses Tuesday and expect to spend most of the week putting on evidence. McCann said the defense has about 15 witnesses to put on. He expects the case to go to the jury to decide punishment early next week.
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