Juvenile lifer may learn Thursday if he'll be freed after 42 years

A 60-year-old Michigan prisoner's long journey to be freed from a lifetime prison sentence he received for murder as a teen appears to be coming to an end, and he could learn his fate as early as Thursday.

Charles Lewis was in Wayne County Circuit Court on Tuesday for the continuation of a post-conviction hearing, one of several he has had in the past two years. 

Lewis has been behind prison walls for 42 years, serving a term of life without the possibility of parole for the robbery and fatal shooting of an off-duty police officer in an east-side Detroit bar in 1976. 

Juvenile lifer Charles Lewis listens to mitigation specialist Jessica Carrier during his hearing on whether he will be set free or get a new trial in the murder of an off-duty police officer in 1976. Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Quina Lillard presided over the case Tuesday, October 15, 2019 in Detroit.

He has tried for years to get his sentence overturned, saying he was not part of the armed robbery that led to the death of Detroit Police Officer Gerald Sypitowski.

Instead, Lewis said he was playing guitar with others musicians at a union hall at the time of the robbery and shooting.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 gave Lewis and others like him a "beacon of hope" of getting new sentences and possibly being released from prison. In the decision, the justices ruled that sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole is "cruel and unusual punishment."

The court ruled that only juveniles who have shown they are are "irreparably" incorrigible or corrupt could still be sentenced to life without parole.

Lewis is among more than 200 Michigan “juvenile lifers” whose cases have or are being reviewed since the decision.

During Tuesday's hearing before Judge Qiana Lillard, a psychologist testified that Lewis has the potential to be rehabilitated.

"He is ready to re-enter society," said Dr.Colin King. "I see someone psychologically who is functional and has the ability to function in society."

Assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Tom Dawson asked King about a psychological assessment of Lewis that labeled him "homicidal and a sociopath." King said Lewis was labeled with terms that are outdated.

Wayne County Assistant Prosecutors Tom Dawson, left, and Paul DeCorte, listen to witness testimony.

King said people's brains don't mature until they are 24. The psychologist also noted that Lewis has expressed remorse for trouble he got into as a teen and has learned from his mistakes. He said Lewis has held jobs in prison, educated himself and participated in programs such as playing music for church services.

Closing arguments are expected Thursday when the hearing continues at 1:30 p.m. before Lillard.

Also testifying Tuesday was the original prosecutor, Robert Morgan, said he didn't have much recollection about the case but did remember that it case was basically built on accomplice testimony by another teen who had charges against him dismissed.

“I presume it was in exchange for his testimony,” Morgan said.

“At the time, I believed the jury arrived at the right verdict,” he said.


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