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Problems surface in Lewis trial

March 12, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

A bailiff had to track down a local attorney at a motorcycle shop in Virginia on Tuesday evening to clear up a crucial matter in the criminal case pending against Aaron C. Lewis.

Lewis, 19, is charged with crashing a Nissan Pathfinder into former West Virginia State Police Sgt. Scott Paugh's police cruiser at around 11 p.m. on May 29, 2002.

Problems arose during the first day of Lewis' trial Tuesday when one of the state's key witnesses - Jonathan Crawford - invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify, citing advice from his attorney.

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Crawford is the only person who can testify that Lewis was driving the Pathfinder when it crashed into Paugh's cruiser, seriously injuring the former state trooper, said Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely.

She said Crawford was a passenger in the Pathfinder.

After the wreck, police alleged, Lewis fled on foot, leaving Paugh trapped inside his cruiser for nearly 10 minutes until a passerby arrived and called for help. The Pathfinder was abandoned in the street.

After the jurors were dismissed for the day, bailiff Jeff Wilkins tracked down Crawford's attorney, Paul Lane, who was in Winchester, Va. From there, on speakerphone at around 5:30 p.m., Lane said that Crawford could testify, since Games-Neely has indicated that Crawford will not be charged in connection with the wreck.

The trial is expected to resume, and possibly end, today. Crawford will be the first witness called to the stand, Games-Neely said.

Before the snag involving Crawford, four witnesses testified. A jury panel of four men and nine women, including one alternate, is hearing the case.

Paugh took the stand and detailed the injuries he suffered as a result of the head-on collision. He said he had a depressed skull fracture, which punctured his brain, and needed plates and screws to reconstruct the area around his left eye. He also suffered injuries to his hip and arm, along with multiple cuts. Dead skin had to be removed from one shin, he said.

Because he has double vision when he looks to the side or downward, Paugh had to retire on disability from the West Virginia State Police, he said.

Paugh said he does not remember the wreck.

"The last thing I remember is leaving the office," said Paugh, commander of the Jefferson County barrack at the time. He testified that he left work an hour earlier than normal that day because he was scheduled to come in early the following day.

After taking a lunch break, jurors were driven to the crash site on Golf Course Road, also known as Burke Street extended.

Circuit Court Judge David Sanders pointed out where both cars involved in the wreck came to rest. A few jurors jotted down notes as they looked at the scene.

Also taking the stand was Roger Butcher Jr., a patrolman with the Martinsburg Police Department.

He testified that just before the crash, he saw a Nissan Pathfinder near the intersection of Burke and Centre streets, and the SUV took off at a high rate of speed when the driver saw Butcher's police car.

Butcher had gone to the area to help another officer with an unrelated matter. He started to pursue the Pathfinder, but ceased the chase just before the accident site and was unaware of the crash, he testified.

Dressed in a tan suit and blue tie, Lewis often whispered to his attorney, Robert E. Barrat, while witnesses testified.

During his opening statement to the jury, Barrat commended the work of police officers, but said nothing the jury decides will reverse Paugh's injuries.

"Don't let his injuries confuse you with the facts of this case," he said.

Barrat said he intends to show that it was Jonathan Crawford, and not his client, who was driving the Pathfinder at the time of the wreck.

Crawford was at the courthouse, a prominent scar visible on his right cheek. The scar was a result of the crash, Games-Neely said.

Cooperative with police, Crawford has been consistent with his story about what happened on the night of the crash, Games-Neely said. She said she spoke to Crawford on Monday and Tuesday and until nearly the last possible minute he was willing to testify, she said.

Lane wrote down a statement Crawford was supposed to read when he took the stand, in which he would have invoked his Fifth Amendment rights, Games-Neely said. Before Crawford could read the statement, however, jurors were sent home and bailiffs started trying to find Lane to clear up the issue.

Crawford has an attorney because he faces unrelated criminal charges in Circuit Court and U.S. District Court.

Lane represents him on the Circuit Court allegations, including a charge of burglary that dates to 2001. A separate attorney represents Crawford on a federal drug charge, to which Crawford recently pleaded guilty, Games-Neely and Barrat agreed.

Lewis turned himself in to police last June for charges related to the crash. In October, a grand jury panel indicted him on a felony charge of fleeing from police causing injury and several misdemeanor offenses, including driving left of center and fleeing on foot from the scene of an accident.

In December, Lewis, who had been free on bail, was charged with a felony count of possession of marijuana with the intent to deliver after police allege they found 10 grams of drugs in his pockets, court records show. That charge is pending.

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