A Pine Bluff man likely will spend the rest of his life in prison after pleading no contest to 16 charges stemming from an incident on Dec. 16, 2011, that included the shooting death of one man and the wounding of three other people.
Circuit Judge Berlin C. Jones on Thursday sentenced Courtney Lewis, 27, to a total of 60 years in prison. Because of a prior conviction for a violent felony, Lewis will have to serve 100 percent of that sentence with no possibility of parole.
Lewis was accused of killing Kenneth Davis, 46, and stealing his vehicle on the parking lot of the E-Z Mart on North University Drive. Lewis was charged with capital murder in Davis’ death.
Lewis was also charged with three counts of first-degree battery for shooting three other people, three counts of aggravated assault, two of them against law enforcement officers, two counts of aggravated robbery, two counts of committing a terroristic act, two counts of theft by receiving, one count of escape and one count of felon in possession of a firearm. All of the sentences will run concurrently with each other, and with a sentence that Lewis is currently serving for probation violations.
“We’re satisfied with the plea and so are the families, particularly the Davis family,” Prosecuting Attorney S. Kyle Hunter said. “He was convicted on all the charges and will have to serve 100 percent of the sentence.”
As part of the plea agreement, Lewis was allowed to plead no contest to a reduced charge of first-degree murder in Davis’ death.
Prosecutors originally had indicated they would seek the death penalty but after talking to the Davis family and other victims in the incident, they dropped that idea.
“We knew if we continued to try and seek the death penalty, this case would have been continued and after visiting with the family, they wanted to keep the trial date that had been set,” Hunter said.
He also cited ongoing legal challenges to the death penalty that might have further complicated the case.
Lewis had been set for trial in two weeks. Had he been convicted of capital murder, he would have been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, as well as potentially several more life terms for the other offenses.
Deputy Prosecutor Rik Ramsey said the incident began when Lewis, accompanied by Jeffrey Smith, 28, was driving a stolen car on the Martha Mitchell Expressway when Lewis saw a man he knew driving another vehicle. Lewis told Smith he was going to rob the other man, later identified as Kenrell Hunt, 21.
Lewis got out of the vehicle he was driving and fired a shot at Hunt but missed. Smith tried to drive away but Lewis returned and shot Smith in the arm. Lewis then got back in the car and drove to the parking lot of the E-Z Mart where he got out of the vehicle while it was running and the vehicle rolled into the building.
Police said Lewis then tried to hijack a car occupied by Latoya Curry, 31, Rhonda Robinson, 20, and four children, ranging in age from 4 to 13. Lewis the car, striking one woman in the leg, and the other in the arm. Ramsey said both women are still suffering disabilities as a result of their injuries.
Lewis then confronted Davis, who was standing beside his vehicle at a gas pump. Lewis shot Davis in the head before he got into Davis’ vehicle and turned north on University Avenue, where he hit a light pole.
Asked by Jones if he had anything to say in court Thursday, Lewis turned to family members of Davis and other victims and said “I’m sorry for my actions.”
Officer James Huff was the first officer on the scene and reported seeing the vehicle and turning on his blue lights. Ramsey said Lewis pointed a gun at Huff but did not fire any shots, then retreated into a gully on the north side of an ambulance service office.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Andy Hoots went into the gully after Lewis and used a Taser on Lewis, who grabbed Hoots, pushed him into the water and held his head underwater until Officer Jeremy Oswalt went into the gully to assist Hoots.
Ramsey said Hoots was able to get his head out of the water with Oswalt’s help, but Lewis grabbed Oswalt and shoved his head underwater until other officers were able to arrive and subdue Lewis.
Because he was hit with a Taser, Lewis was taken to Jefferson Regional Medical Center where he escaped from custody for 30 to 45 minutes before he was found hiding in a storage closet.
Ramsey said the gun Lewis used during the incident had been reported stolen.
“There were a lot of victims in this crime, including police officers who put their lives in danger,” Hunter said.
Hunter said Ramsey and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Wayne Juneau had done a lot of work getting ready to go to trial when they were notified by public defenders representing Lewis that he was considering taking a plea.
“Wayne and Rik were ready to go,” Hunter said.
Lewis was a son of the late Carol Baker, who was shot on the parking lot of the Lakeview Apartments at 509W. Barraque St., on May 27 and pronounced dead at the scene. Four men have been charged with first-degree murder in that incident.