LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas man was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole Friday for the suffocation death of a real estate agent he was accused of luring to a fake home showing as part of a plot to kidnap her for ransom.
Arron Lewis' punishment came shortly after a jury in Little Rock convicted him of capital murder and kidnapping for the death of 50-year-old Beverly Carter. She disappeared in September 2014 after telling her husband that she was showing a house to a prospective buyer in a rural area near Little Rock.
Prosecutors said Lewis and his estranged wife, Crystal Lowery, set up the fake house showing with Carter, then he kidnapped her. They argued that Carter was killed when the ransom plot went awry.
Her body was later found in a shallow grave at a concrete plant where Lewis once worked. The face was covered with what prosecutors called a death mask made of duct tape. An autopsy determined she had been suffocated.
Lewis' attorneys argued that Carter died accidentally during a consensual sex act, a claim that prosecutors said was a total fabrication.
Carter's son, Carl Carter Jr., said his mother was wrongly portrayed. "For the guilty to be able to drag her sweet name through the mud ... it is awful," he said during a victim impact statement he gave in court before Lewis was sentenced.
Outside court later, he said, "The only thing that Beverly Carter did that day was go to work."
Defense attorney Bill James said during his closing argument that financial problems, marital problems and other issues reasonably could have led Carter to have an affair.
But Pulaski County Deputy Prosecutor Barbara Mariani said the defense didn't prove reasonable doubt in the case — and instead presented Lewis' story that was hurtful to Carter's friends and family.
"It wasn't enough to watch her slowly, agonizingly die in terror. He continues the victimization past her death," Mariani said in her closing argument.
Lewis, 35, who testified in his own defense, described burying Carter's body and binding her with duct tape. But he insisted that he did not kill her, instead pinning her death on Lowery.
Lowery pleaded guilty last year to first-degree murder and kidnapping and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. She testified as a witness for the prosecution and denied Lewis' claims that the death was accidental.
After sentencing, Chief Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson said Lewis "didn't do himself any favors" by testifying. Johnson was able to point to alleged contradictions in Lewis' version of events, including how he came to have an audio recording on his phone of Carter telling her husband to do what her kidnapper said and to not call police.
Lewis was automatically sentenced to life in prison without parole on the capital murder charge, and the jury sentenced him to an additional consecutive life term on the kidnapping charge. The prosecution got the conviction despite not being able to use some evidence gathered by police in the case.
Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herbert Wright cited missteps by law enforcement when he ruled in December that much evidence couldn't be used at trial — including some statements Lewis made to police and items found in Lewis' car trunk, including Carter's hair and duct tape.