LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Jurors in the capital murder trial for an Arkansas man accused of kidnapping and killing a real estate agent heard vastly different theories Wednesday, with prosecutors describing a brutal killing and the defense claiming the victim may have accidentally died during a consensual sex act.
Prosecutors said during opening statements that Arron Lewis and his estranged wife targeted Beverly Carter as part of a ransom scheme. The 50-year-old real estate agent disappeared in September 2014, after telling her husband she was showing a house.
Pulaski County deputy prosecutor Barbara Mariani said Lewis and his wife, Crystal Lowery, lured Carter to a rural home near Little Rock and tried to demand a ransom from her husband. But when the plan started to unravel, Lewis killed Carter by wrapping her head in duct tape, Mariani said.
Carter's body was later found in a shallow grave at a concrete plant where Lewis once worked. Green duct tape was wrapped around Carter's nose and mouth six times, the prosecutor said.
"The last thing that Beverly experienced was unspeakable horror at that man's hands," Mariani said, motioning toward Lewis.
Defense attorney Bill James said prosecutors were presenting a "made-for-TV movie." James said Carter's death may have been an accident that happened during a sexual tryst — a theory that Mariani called a complete fabrication.
The prosecutor noted that Lowery, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder last year in the case, will testify about how she and Lewis went looking for a married real estate agent so they could demand a ransom from a spouse.
The defense tried to highlight alleged marital and financial problems between Carter and her husband, suggesting she may have been seeking outside relationships. But their son, Carl Carter Jr., testified Wednesday that his parents' marriage was "as strong as it has ever been" before his mother died.
Several investigators also testified Wednesday, telling jurors that phone and emails records show that Lewis and Lowery created a fake phone account to set up a meeting with Carter at a vacant house. Former Pulaski County sheriff's detective Drew Evans said the number was used to call and text Carter on the day she disappeared.
Testimony was expected to resume Thursday.
Prosecutors will be presenting much of their case without key evidence that Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Herbert Wright previously ruled wouldn't be allowed because of missteps by law enforcement.
Most of the information investigators gathered while interviewing Lewis was excluded from trial because Lewis had invoked his right to have an attorney present while being transported by Little Rock police, but no attorney was provided to him during the interrogation with Pulaski County sheriff's investigators, the judge said in December.
Wright also said search warrants obtained by detectives were overly broad and ruled that evidence found in Lewis' trunk and home will not be allowed. The warrants found duct tape and Carter's hair in the trunk, and her phone and other items of hers at the home.
However, prosecutors were allowed to play a recording obtained from the voice memos on Lewis' phone where Carter can be heard telling her husband to follow ransom instructions and that things could get bad if he were to call the police.
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