Thursday, March 19, 2009

COLUMBUS, OHIO (AP) - Family members hoping for resolution in the case of an Ohio man accused of fatally shooting his identical twin brother must wait a little longer.

A judge declared a mistrial Thursday in the case of Derris Lewis after a juror said she couldn’t continue because of the death of her sister-in-law. That left only 11 available jurors, since alternate jurors were dismissed before deliberations began.

Judge Guy Reece of Franklin County Common Pleas Court dismissed the jury after defense attorneys declined his offer to continue with an 11-juror panel. Prosecutors did not object and said they expect to start a new trial within several months.

The judge rejected a request from Lewis’ attorneys to reduce his $750,000 bond.

Lewis, 19, has pleaded not guilty to aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and kidnapping in the January 2008 death of his brother Dennis in a robbery at their mother’s house in Columbus.

If convicted, he could have faced up to life in prison. Derris, who remained jailed Thursday, was in good spirits, said his sister, Diane Lewis. She said the family hoped to have a favorable verdict Thursday but remains hopeful her brother will eventually be freed.

“Just a little while longer and he will be acquitted of all charges,” she said. “We’re very sure about that.”

Diane Lewis gave emotional testimony this week for the defense about finding a dying Dennis the night of the slaying. Prosecutors questioned her version of events, including why she didn’t have blood on her after finding Dennis. Prosecutors didn’t explain the significance of that lack of blood to their theory of the crime.

The mistrial was another twist in a case that has shocked the community. Lewis’ mother told police three to five masked men entered the house, held her at gunpoint, then beat and shot Dennis when he tried to fight back.

Prosecutors allege that Dennis Lewis died in a fight with his brother, possibly over money Dennis was saving for a car. Police have said they believe Derris acted alone but haven’t said why they believe he killed his brother.

Both brothers, high school seniors at the time, were active in sports, band and theater. Friends, family and teachers described them as best friends, like peas in a pod. Derris gave interviews shortly after his brother’s death saying he forgave Dennis’ killer.

Derris was arrested about a month after the killing.

Prosecutors said fingerprints and a bloody palm print belonging to Derris linked him to the crime. They also implied he returned to the home days later and pretended to find $283 in cash in an envelope in his brother’s bedroom.

Police have said they thoroughly searched the home the day of the shooting and never saw such an envelope.

The defense says Derris Lewis sleeping in his apartment miles from the slaying, and three witnesses testified he was home at the time.

The defense also identified an alternate suspect and said police had not ruled out the suspect’s gun as the murder weapon.

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