Georgia's supreme court has upheld the conviction of a man convicted of hiring a hit man to kill his business partner.
Back In 2015, a Houston County judge sentenced Devasko Lewis to life without parole in state prison for murder and other charges.
Lewis was charged with hiring the hit man because he believed his business partner planned to testify against him in a federal fraud case.
Instead, prosecutors say hit man Jamarcus Clark murdered the partner's nephew, Kerry Glenn.
Clark is also serving a life sentence for murder.
Lewis's lawyers argued that he was convicted solely on Clark's testimony and that Clark has written a letter recanting.
But the supreme court wrote that that's not enough to give Lewis a new trial.
Clark has not stated under oath that he perjured himself, and there's no independent evidence that he lied on the stand, the court said.
The court also upheld murder convictions against Jessica Lee Brown, convicted of killing her boyfriend in Bleckley County, and Michael Todd Rice, found guilty of shooting a man driving through a Macon neighborhood.
Here is the court's summary of the Devasko Lewis case:
LEWIS V. THE STATE (S17A1143)
The Supreme Court of Georgia has upheld the murder conviction and life-without-parole prison sentence given to a man convicted in Houston County of hiring a hitman to kill his former business partner. The hitman subsequently killed the wrong man.
In this high-profile case, Devasko Lewis argued the evidence was insufficient to prove him guilty of the botched murder-for-hire scheme that resulted in the shooting death of Kerry Glenn. But in today's unanimous opinion, written by Justice Robert Benham, "we conclude the evidence was sufficient to authorize the jury verdicts under the standard set forth in Jackson v. Virginia," a 1979 U.S. Supreme Court decision.
According to the facts of the case, Lewis owned a trucking company in Cordele, GA, that employed Corey Daniels as a truck driver. According to state prosecutors, Lewis went to Daniels and said he needed to put everything – the company, its truck titles, and bank accounts – in Daniels' name. Daniels later learned that several years earlier, one of Lewis's drivers had been in an accident that killed at least six correctional officers. After transferring the business into Daniels' name, Lewis remained a silent partner, maintaining control over the drivers, paperwork and payroll. Lewis and Daniels were eventually indicted in federal court for issues related to the business. After Daniels' attorney told him that federal authorities really wanted Lewis, Daniels agreed to testify against him in the federal case. When Lewis learned that Daniels planned to testify against him, he approached a man, Tony Taylor, about finding someone to kill Daniels. Taylor introduced him to his cousin, Jamarcus Clark. Lewis met with Taylor and Clark and told them a man named Corey Daniels owed him money, and that he wanted Clark to get the money and truck titles which were at Daniels' mother's house. Lewis told Clark that if Daniels' mother would not allow him into her house, he should "take her out." Clark later testified that on Jan. 9, 2014, Lewis drove him to Houston County, gave him $400 and paid for his hotel room. Later that evening, Clark walked to the home of Ernestine McGhee, Daniels' mother, on Jewel Drive and when she would not let him in the house, he fired shots into the living room and kitchen. McGhee escaped injury. The next day, Lewis told Clark there was more work that needed to be done, and he gave Clark $1,000 to kill Daniels. Lewis drove Clark to Daniels' home to show him where he lived and instructed Clark to approach Daniels by saying he was interested in buying his racecar. Lewis promised to pay Clark an additional $4,000 once the hit was completed.
On Jan. 14, 2014, Lewis met Clark in Tifton, GA and took him to a shop where he gave Clark a truck to drive back to Houston County and kill Daniels. Clark drove the truck to Daniels' house and pulled into his yard. Unknown to Clark, Daniels was not at home, but his nephew, Kerry Glenn, who lived with Daniels, came outside to find out what Clark wanted. Clark, who had never met either Daniels or Glenn, assumed that Glenn was Daniels. Clark asked him about buying the racecar, and Glenn took him to the back of the house to show Clark the car. Glenn was telling him about the motor when Clark, who was behind Glenn, aimed the gun at Glenn's head and fired one shot, killing him. The next day, Clark met with Lewis who told him he had killed the wrong man. Clark later identified Lewis in a photographic lineup and at trial as the man who had planned both incidents.
In March 2014, a Houston County grand jury indicted Devasko Lewis and Jamarcus Clark for malice murder, felony murder, and aggravated battery related to the shooting death of Kerry Glenn, and for conspiracy to commit the murder of Corey Daniels and Ernestine McGhee. Following trial in April 2015, Lewis was convicted on all counts except for conspiracy to murder McGhee. He was sentenced to life without parole plus 10 years. Lewis then appealed to the state Supreme Court.
In addition to challenging the evidence as insufficient to convict him of the charges against him, Lewis argues he should have been granted a new trial because the main witness against him, his co-defendant and hitman Clark, later recanted his testimony. Clark wrote in a letter that he had testified against Lewis at trial because the district attorney had told him he would "go easy" on him if he told them about Lewis.
"Generally, a recantation of a witness' trial testimony is merely impeaching of the trial testimony and does not establish a convicted defendant's right to a new trial, even if the witness states under oath that his prior trial testimony was false," today's opinion says. However, under Georgia Code § 17-1-4, an exception to that rule "is created when a trial witness is convicted of perjury with respect to his trial testimony." The only other exception to the rule that prohibits setting aside a verdict based on trial testimony is where "there is no doubt" that the testimony of the State's witness is "purest fabrication." Although Lewis claims that Clark's letter demonstrates that his trial testimony had been the "purest fabrication," the high court disagrees. "Here, even if Clark had verified the contents of the letter under oath (which he did not), the evidence would consist only of the witness' recantation that would merely serve to impeach his previous sworn testimony, and not independent evidence that illustrates the impossibility of the facts to which the witness previously testified," the opinion says.
Lewis argues that if this Court concludes, as it did, that he is not entitled to a new trial, it should find that the current Georgia standard for requiring a perjury conviction to grant a new trial is unconstitutional because it violates the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. and state constitutions.
"This statutory requirement of a perjury conviction has been challenged before," the opinion says. In 1949, in Burke v. State, the Georgia Supreme Court rejected the same constitutional challenges Lewis now asserts. In that case, the state Supreme Court concluded that § 17-1-4 is actually consistent with U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have found due process is denied when a conviction is procured by perjured testimony. "The statute requires a verdict obtained by perjured testimony to be set aside. This Court noted, however, that when the only evidence of perjury is that a trial witness later gives testimony contrary to that given at trial, the trial court 'ought not to be called upon to say whether or not one of such statements is enough reliable evidence to authorize disbelief of the other.'"
"Again, we reject the assertion that the provisions of § 17-1-4 violate a convicted criminal's rights to due process and equal protection of the law."
Finally, Lewis argues that allowing a judge to impose the sentence of life without parole, without input from the jury as required before sentencing someone to death, means that anyone convicted of murder can have his sentence enhanced above the statutory minimum of life with the possibility of parole without a jury's finding that an aggravating circumstance exists.
"In this case, sentencing appellant to life without parole did not increase the mandatory minimum sentence for the jury's guilty verdict," the opinion says. "The sentencing statute simply authorizes a range of sentences for the trial judge to consider upon conviction of murder if the death penalty is not sought and imposed by the jury."
Attorneys for Appellant (Lewis): Laura Hogue, Susan Raymond
Attorneys for Appellee (State): George Hartwig III, District Attorney, Daniel Bibler, Dep. Chief Asst. D.A., Christopher Carr, Attorney General, Beth Burton, Dep. A.G., Paula Smith, Sr. Asst. A.G., Matthew Crowder, Asst. A.G.