Carla Lewis Niles Murder – Friends and family of Carla Lewis held on to one another, trying to hold back their emotions while sitting inside a Berrien County courtroom Tuesday morning, but they couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. A jury had just found Carla’s husband, John Lewis, guilty of premeditated murder in her August 2017 shooting death. Finally, at the end of a two-week trial that had been postponed multiple times, there was justice, said Carla’s sister, Renee Burrington.
Lewis, 49, was accused of shooting and killing his wife inside a small marijuana grow room in their Niles Township home and then calling 911, saying two men had broken into the home and shot his wife and stole her car to get away. On Tuesday, Lewis also was found guilty of possession with intent to manufacture marijuana. While he had a license to grow up to 12 plants, because Carla was found inside the grow room, that showed others had access, which is a violation.
Closing arguments were heard Friday and the jury deliberated for about two hours before being dismissed for the weekend. They returned Tuesday and deliberated for roughly three hours before returning the guilty verdicts. Lewis will be sentenced March 25. Carla’s friends and family in court Tuesday all wore yellow clothing, jewelry and ribbons pinned to the left side of their chests. Yellow was Carla’s favorite color, Burrington said, and it was a color that reflected her bright personality. The number of friends and former co-workers of Carla’s who were by Burrington’s side during the two-week trial was a testament to how much Carla was loved, Burrington said.
“She was the best sister,” she said. “She had a heart of gold.” But now those family and friends must hold on to their memories of Carla, while trying to move on without her. “I have great memories of us as kids,” Burrington said. “We did everything together and we wanted to do everything together when we retired, but that monster didn’t allow it.” Throughout his trial, Lewis maintained his defense that two men entered his home and shot his wife. In a recorded interview from the scene played in court, Lewis could be heard telling Deputy Angela Bagett, “They were in the house. Two guys … They were big. I turned and they were just shooting.” Bagett was the first officer to find the grow room and to see John Lewis and his wife inside.
Throughout the trial, defense attorney Jolene Weiner-Vatter brought up that no murder weapon was ever found and that a palm print collected from a door of the home could not be identified. Evidence collected from Carla’s car when it was found days later also contained DNA from someone other than Lewis, the defense argued. Weiner-Vatter also said Lewis’ marijuana operation made him a target. Up until his arrest, Lewis owned the Sevenleaves Compassion Club at 1046 Bell Road in Niles, which is now closed. Weiner-Vatter declined to comment Tuesday after the verdict.
The prosecution presented a different picture of Lewis. Assistant Berrien County Prosecutor Jerry Vigansky spoke of alleged affairs Lewis was having with multiple women. One where he allegedly discussed wanting to kill his wife. Vigansky also presented evidence that Carla had a $246,000 life insurance policy and $70,000 in retirement money with Lewis as the beneficiary. Vigansky also used a life-sized replica of Lewis’ grow room in court. The prosecutor had responding officers walk around the model while testifying to what they found at the scene.
One day, Berrien County Patrolwoman Jessica Frucci was asked about the bullet holes found on the wall behind Carla’s body, which were each represented by an X on the one white wall of the replica. From inside the replica, Frucci testified the bullet holes were grouped around where Carla Lewis’ body was found. Vigansky asked Frucci in her professional opinion what that meant. She said it appeared the shooter was aiming only at Carla.
Lewis was found near Carla’s body unharmed. Tuesday, Burrington said she can’t appreciate the work detectives and the prosecutor put into Carla’s case enough. While there is now justice for Carla, Burrington said, she doesn’t expect she’ll ever get over the loss of her sister. “I’ll never be able to move on because I have a hole in my heart that will never go away. But I do have peace knowing she’s in heaven with my mom and that her killer is in jail,” Burrington said. “Those two things will give me peace, but they will never take away the hole in my heart.”