Rosie Lewis speaks on her son Charles Lewis, 57, sentenced to life for murder at age 17, after appearing in court for a mandated review of his juvenile life sentence. So far, his file can not be found. Daniel Mears, The Detroit News
Detroit — The 41-year saga of Charles Lewis, 58, will go on for at least several more weeks, after a Wayne County judge adjourned a hearing on Lewis’ future until relevant files can either be found or courthouse staff can testify under oath that they are definitely missing.
Lewis was convicted four decades ago for the robbery and fatal shooting of an off-duty police officer in an east-side bar in 1976. He is serving a life term without the possibility of parole.
Lewis’ family and supporters filled benches of Judge Qiana Lillard’s courtroom on Tuesday hoping that the missing files would lead to Lewis’ dismissal.
That won’t happen, said his attorney, Valerie Newman, of the State Appellate Defender Office. The office is handling more than 200 juvenile-lifer resentencing cases.
Best-case scenario, assuming the files are in fact missing — an assumption Lillard believes is fair, but hopes to test when the case resumes on Oct. 28 at 1:30 p.m. — is that Lewis will be resentenced in such a way as to become immediately eligible for parole, Newman said.
Even then, Lewis wouldn’t go free that day. He still would need to navigate the parole process and succeed in it before he would breathe free air again.
His sentence will not be vacated, Newman said, as the reason the case is even being reconsidered is a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a sentence of life in prison without parole for a juvenile defendant, as Lewis was at the time, is unconstitutional.
But his family, spoken for after Tuesday’s hearing by sister Wendy Lewis and mother Rosie Lewis, still maintains Lewis’ innocence. They have since Day One, which put them a bit crossways with Newman, who is not tasked with seeking exoneration, but with seeking a sentence in line with the law of the land as understood today.
The high end of the minimum scale of that sentence is 40 years, Newman said. The maximum would be 60, or about two more decades than Lewis has served.
Rosie Lewis professed her son’s innocence Tuesday after the hearing — as she did in calls to Lillard’s office.
“I can’t be speaking to people’s mothers,” Lillard said at the hearing, explaining that she hadn’t intended to disrespect Lewis’ mother by not taking her call — just that it would be improper to do so.
“My son told me he was playing with his band” the night of the fatal shooting, Rosie Lewis said.
“The files and records hide the substance that was never there,” Wendy Lewis said. She views the discussion of the files, and the delays that followed, as a distraction when she believes the argument should be for Lewis’ innocence.
The mother and sister describe Lewis as a gifted musician who started playing guitar at age 5 and was “almost like Prince” in his ability to play several different types of instruments skillfully.
Wendy Lewis, who was 12 when her brother was sent to prison, lives in Georgia now but still made the hearing. Afterward, she said she’s concerned for the health of her brother, who she said is a diabetic who has suffered a heart attack in recent years. She fears he’s not getting the medical care he needs in prison.
For now, Lewis is headed back to the Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater. He was given the option to remain at the Wayne County Jail as he awaited his next day in court, but said the prison has a better law library.
“I hear bad things about the law library at the Wayne County Jail,” Lillard said.
“Maybe they were going to build a better one at the new jail,” she added, referring to the still-unfinished project across the street from the courthouse.