Jury finds Lewis guilty on all counts

March 13, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

Jurors deliberated for 2 1/2 hours Wednesday night before finding 19-year-old Aaron Lewis guilty of crashing a Nissan Pathfinder into an off-duty state trooper's car last spring, permanently injuring the officer.

Lewis, 19, showed no visible reaction as Circuit Judge David Sanders pronounced him guilty of fleeing from an officer creating injury, driving left of center, reckless driving, driving without insurance, leaving the scene of an accident involving injuries, driving on a learner's permit without an unimpaired adult in the car, failure to render aid and failure to immediately report an accident.

Lewis slammed into former West Virginia State Police Sgt. Scott Paugh's police cruiser at around 11 p.m. on May 29, 2002, on Golf Course Road. After the wreck, Lewis fled on foot, without attempting to help Paugh.


"It's basically the end of a chapter, the official end of a chapter," Paugh said after the verdict was read. "I'm glad it's behind me."

Paugh's arm, leg and head were injured in the crash. He suffers from permanent double vision, which forced him to retire from the state police on disability.

A jury of eight women and four men listened to testimony from both sides of the case before they started deliberating. Lewis did not take the stand.

After the trial, Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely commended Jonathan Crawford, one of the state's key witnesses.

Crawford, 24, was a front-seat passenger in the Pathfinder that Lewis was driving when it hit Paugh's cruiser. Crawford testified, and a videotaped statement he gave to police two days after the wreck was played during the trial.

"It took a lot of guts for him to come forward. I respect that," Games-Neely said.

After the verdict was read, Lewis turned and looked at two young women in the audience, both of whom were crying. They declined to speak afterward.

When a bailiff started to take Lewis to Eastern Regional Jail after the trial, Lewis suffered an apparent asthma attack and was taken to City Hospital. His condition could not be confirmed.

Crawford testified Wednesday that on the night of the wreck, he and Lewis were stopped near the intersection of Burke and Centre streets, when a police car came up behind them. Although the officer was responding to an unrelated call, Lewis did not know that, panicked and sped off, Crawford said.

Heading along Burke Street, which turns into Golf Course Road, Crawford said speeds reached 75 to 80 mph. Both he and Lewis were peering over their shoulders, looking for the police car, he said.

"As soon as we turned back around, that's when we hit the car," Crawford said.

Crawford said he hit his head and blacked out. When he awoke, Lewis was gone. Crawford said he got out of the Pathfinder, ran into some woods and then to a friend's house.

Lewis' attorney, Robert Barrat, started his cross-examination of Crawford by focusing on Crawford's criminal history. In December, Crawford pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to one count of conspiracy to deliver crack cocaine. He is awaiting sentencing.

Games-Neely has maintained that Crawford was not offered any "deal" in exchange for his testimony, other than the promise that he would not be charged in connection with the wreck.

During his closing statement, Barrat reiterated one portion of Crawford's video-taped statement, which he called "a Freudian slip."

"Nobody was in the passenger - driver's side," Crawford said. That, Barrat argued, was Crawford inadvertently admitting that it was he, and not Lewis, who was driving the Pathfinder.

Lewis was not visibly injured when he spoke to police a day after the wreck, Barrat said. Crawford was.

"What it comes down to is, who are you going to believe?" Barrat said. "I don't think (Crawford) is reliable. I don't think he's truthful. I think Jonathan Crawford is out for Jonathan Crawford."

Lewis gave a videotaped statement to police on May 30, but the tape's audio was not played. Instead, using a transcript, interviewer Sgt. E.D. Anderson read aloud in court the questions he originally asked Lewis, and Games-Neely read aloud Lewis' responses.

During the interview, Lewis said his Pathfinder had been stolen and that he had no idea who took it. He said he left the keys on a counter in his apartment, and any number of people had access to them. Not once during the interview, which took more than 40 minutes to read aloud, did he mention Crawford.

Forming a possible alibi, several defense witnesses said Lewis was in Hagerstown on May 29. One said Lewis was in Hagerstown at around 9 or 9:30 p.m., while another said she was certain it was sometime after 5 p.m.

Another witness, Kevin Gideon, said that Crawford left a party near Martinsburg at around 9 p.m., carrying Lewis' keys. Although he said he was certain the keys were Lewis', when Gideon was shown a photograph of the keys, still in the ignition of the wrecked Pathfinder, he said they were not the same keys.

Gideon testified that Lewis was still at the party when Crawford left, which conflicted with testimony that Lewis was in Hagerstown.

Surveillance cameras recorded Lewis in a Martinsburg 7-Eleven at 9:38 p.m. on the night of the wreck.

In her closing statement, Games-Neely said Lewis - who she said was driving - was not badly injured because of Crawford.

"Jonathan Crawford acts as a pillow. Jonathan took all the heat. Jonathan took all the impact," she said.

Lewis is scheduled to be sentenced May 12.

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