LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A woman charged in the kidnapping and killing of an Arkansas real estate agent pleaded guilty Tuesday to reduced charges in exchange for agreeing to testify against her estranged husband, who also is charged in the death.
Crystal Lowery was sentenced to 30 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree murder and kidnapping charges in the death of 50-year-old Beverly Carter. As she was escorted from the courtroom, Lowery didn't answer reporters' questions, except to say she was sorry that Carter died.
Carter disappeared in September after leaving her Pulaski County home for an appointment to show a house in Scott, a rural area east of Little Rock. Her husband reported her missing a few hours later after finding her car with her purse on the seat at the home she was supposed to show.
Her body was found in a shallow grave in northern Pulaski County a few days later. Prosecutors have not offered a motive in her killing.
The 42-year-old Lowery was initially charged with capital murder. Her husband, 34-year-old Arron Lewis, was also charged and has pleaded not guilty to capital murder and kidnapping, according to court records.
Lewis was arrested shortly before Carter's body was found near a concrete plant where Lewis had worked. Lowery was arrested a few days later.
Lowery appeared in court Tuesday in a dark blue prison uniform. She answered questions from Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Herbert Wright with barely audible, "Yes, sir," and, "No, sir," responses.
Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Johnson said the charge was reduced after Lowery agreed to provide "truthful testimony" against her husband.
"It's always good when you have someone who is a participant in the crime who can help provide additional information and perspective for the jury," Johnson said.
He said Carter's family had been kept informed throughout the process and supported the plea agreement. The family was previously cited as part of the reason prosecutors chose not to seek the death penalty in the capital murder charges.
Carter's family, friends and co-workers filled three rows of courtroom benches Tuesday. They hugged each other in the courthouse lobby, some wiping away tears after the hearing. Carter's family declined to comment to reporters on the plea.
At the hearing Tuesday, Johnson said after examination of phone records, it was "apparent" that Lowery "participated in the plan and kidnapping of Ms. Beverly Carter, which resulted in her death."
Johnson said the state's case against Lewis is "strong," but declined to elaborate. He said no plea agreement has been offered or asked for by Lewis.
Lewis fired his first attorney, and had sought to represent himself in court. Defense attorney Bill James was appointed to represent him last month.
Reached by phone Tuesday, James said he has gotten through about 75 percent of the investigation file and it would be premature to discuss a plan at this point.
"Certainly (Lowery's plea agreement) is something we'll have to deal with going forward," he said. "I don't know how it will affect us."
According to court records, Lewis is scheduled to go to trial in January.
Lowery filed for divorce from Lewis shortly after her arrest in October. They married in April 2014. In her filing, Lowery said she did not know that Lewis was a "seven time convicted felon."
Lewis contested the divorce in January, asking a judge to dismiss Lowery's request.
This story corrects the spelling of the first name of Lowery's co-defendant to Arron Lewis, not Aaron Lewis.