Sentencing expert to examine juvenile lifer case

Charles E. Ramirez
The Detroit News
Charles Lewis appears in a Detroit court video hearing Aug. 3, 2018. Lewis has spent the last 41 years in prison for the 1976 killing of a police officer. He hopes to be let free or have his life sentence altered.

A man who has spent 41 years in prison will have to wait a little longer to find out if he will be resentenced or set free.

Charles Lewis, 59, was convicted in the fatal shooting of 27-year-old off-duty Detroit police officer Gerald Sypitowski at an east-side bar July 31, 1976. He was sentenced to life without parole at the age of 17. On Friday, a Wayne circuit court judge granted his attorney's request for a sentencing expert.

Lewis is among more than 200 Michigan “juvenile lifers” whose cases are being reviewed since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a life sentence without the possibility of parole for underage offenders is unconstitutional.

During a hearing Friday, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Qiana Lillard granted his lawyer's request for a sentencing mitigation expert.

"I think a mitigation expert is appropriate," the judge said. 

Sanford Schulman, attorney for juvenile lifer Charles Lewis, speaks at a court hearing in Detroit Aug. 3, 2018.

Sanford Schulman, Lewis' attorney, said the expert will try to recreate the last 40 years and submit a report to the judge with recommendations on sentencing in the case.

"This is a complex case and the judge knows it," he said after the hearing. "We're talking about a man who's been in jail for 40 years. We need an expert to go through (Lewis') history, what his environment, his life was."

He said these type of experts are frequently used in cases involving the death penalty in federal courts, but not often at the state court level.

Lewis attended the hearing via video conference. He is serving his time at Lakeland Correctional Facility in Coldwater, about 135 miles west of Detroit. 

Lewis asked the judge if she could help get him moved to a state facility closer to Detroit so the mitigation expert and his attorney could have easier access to him.

Lillard called the request "reasonable" and said she would look into making it happen.

She also scheduled Lewis' next hearing for Sept. 28, during which the court will hear additional motions from the defense and prosecutors. Among them is what to do about a missing court file, composed of documents that could fill three hand carts, that has been holding up Lewis' effort to be resentenced. 

Two months ago, court officials said they were trying to “recreate” the missing file.

Last October, a judge denied Lewis bond while he awaits his possible resentencing. The judge cited the seriousness of his conviction in her decision.

Lewis and his supporters have maintained he is innocent and that Lewis, who is a musician, was not at the murder scene but elsewhere playing a gig when Sypitowski's murder happened.

Twitter: @CharlesERamirez