Exonerated at last

MANASSAS — Laughter pours from the Lewis home on Firethorn Court in Manassas — a sound that hasn’t been heard there for more than a month.

Up until Monday, Wendy Lewis’ 18-year-old son had been held behind bars on six felony charges, including attempted capital murder.

It was a crime the family knew he didn’t commit and on Monday a judge finally agreed.

For weeks, it seemed they were the only ones who believed Eddie Amir Lewis Jr. was innocent.

Lewis was arrested in April for the Jan. 31 shooting of a Super Mart convenience store clerk who took bullets in the head and torso. The store on Liberia Avenue in Manassas had a video surveillance system, possibly capturing the image of the crime while it took place. But according to police reports, the shooter grabbed the tape after taking down the 22-year-old clerk.

Lewis was arrested for the crime and charged with attempted capital murder, robbery, aggravated malicious wounding and three counts of use of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

If found guilty, Lewis could have been sentenced to two life sentences in prison.

He was taken into custody April 10 and not released until his preliminary hearing Monday, when all charges were dropped after the store clerk, who was sitting in the courtroom, said Lewis wasn’t the one in his store that night with the gun.

“It was mistaken identity,” said Wendy Lewis. “I knew I had to fight for my son. [The Manassas police] had made it clear to me that they thought they had their man.”

Wendy Lewis and her mother, Eddie Lewis’ grandmother, Minnie Davies, admit he is no angel — they call him a typical 18-year-old boy. But, he had never before been in trouble with the law. He held a steady job and was planning on walking in a June graduation ceremony for the general education diploma he had recently received.

His life seemed on track, and the family wasn’t prepared for what happened the night in April when two Manassas Police Department detectives came to their home.

“They wanted him for questioning, and we told him to go with police,” she said.

Lewis said he knew about the shooting at the Super Mart. A frequent customer, he cashed his paycheck at that store every two weeks, and he knew the clerk who had been shot. He thought the detectives wanted to question him because maybe they thought he had been in the store right before the shooting.

But that isn’t how things went.

“My husband was on that side of town [near the police station] so I called him to let him know what was going on,” Wendy Lewis said. “That they had taken Eddie in for questioning.”

She said she didn’t expect what was said in the next phone call her husband made to her.

“He called me and said ‘Baby, they are charging our baby with attempted capital murder,'” Wendy Lewis said. “We just broke down on the phone.”

Lewis said he didn’t know how to act when he was told he was being charged with six felony offenses.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I didn’t understand where it was coming from. It just seemed to drag on, and I didn’t know if I would ever be getting out.”

During the course of the investigation, Wendy Lewis said, detectives told her the victim identified Lewis several times using only a profile picture from the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“On more than one occasion [Lewis’] photo was picked out of numerous photos by the victim,” said Manassas Police Chief John Skinner. “Because nothing was found after a search warrant was issued, and that he said he had an alibi does not substantiate or diminish probable cause.

“The search warrant was issued weeks after the incident and so there was enough time to dispose of [the handgun and surveillance tape.]”

The weapon used has not been found, Skinner said.

“We regret that the individual was held in jail wrongfully … but this is proof positive that our criminal justice system is working as it was designed. Because very early on, and not 10 years later, this young man was released,” Skinner said.

Manassas Police Department spokesman Sgt. Marc J. Woolverton said he would not discuss if the identification on Lewis was made solely by photo, but that the Manassas department does not do lineups in order for a victim to identify a suspect.

“The detective in the case spoke with the victim several times,” Woolverton said. “We have to [check out an alibi given by those charged], but we also have to go by what the clerk in this case says.”

On Monday, when Lewis walked out in to the courtroom to face a Prince William County General District Court judge in order to see if his case was to go before a grand jury, the store clerk told prosecution they had the wrong man.

“That was the first time [the clerk] had seen Eddie in person,” Wendy Lewis said. “He knew it wasn’t him. The prosecution kept asking him if he was sure, and he said yes, he was sure. They dropped all six charges right then and there and the whole family just jumped up and shouted.”

Woolverton said it is not uncommon for a victim and suspect to meet face-to-face for the first time at a preliminary hearing.

“Information came out at the preliminary hearing that we didn’t have until then,” Woolverton said. “This investigation is still ongoing. We are not considering this case closed, and I feel strongly we can make another arrest in this case.”

As for the night of Jan. 31, Lewis said he was with three friends in a Lake Jackson recording studio working on rap songs.

“I called home every day while in jail,” Lewis said. “I had a cell mate, most people were OK in there. It was cold, I didn’t eat a whole lot in there — I prayed.”

His first night back home was filled with friends and family.

“We ordered pizza, we had stacks of them,” Wendy Lewis said. “That is what he said he wanted.”

Davies said she told Eddie to pray and read Bible verses while he was incarcerated. She and Eddie’s mother told his 3-year-old daughter that her dad was away for awhile, but that he would be home soon.

“It is a good thing that he is a big guy, because as soon as those doors opened Monday to let him out we all ran to him and jumped on him,” Davies said.

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