DENVER (AP) - A man convicted of stabbing five people to death at a Denver bar and setting the business on fire will not be executed and instead will serve a lifelong prison sentence, a jury decided Thursday.
It was the second time in a month that a Colorado jury has decided against execution for a mass killer. Earlier this month, jurors choose not to give the death penalty to James Holmes, who killed 12 people in an attack on a suburban Denver movie theater in 2012.
The latest case involved Dexter Lewis, 25, who was convicted Aug. 10 of five counts of murder for stabbing five people to death in October 2012. The killings happened during a bar robbery that netted $170.
Prosecutors said Lewis led a four-man robbery crew at Fero’s Bar and Grill, where he killed the bar’s owner and four customers.
Two of the men at the robbery testified that Lewis stabbed his victims, including the owner of the bar, while they were held at gunpoint.
“He simply went down the line, not caring about them, not showing any of them any mercy,” prosecutor Matt Wenig told jurors.
The bar was set ablaze before the men fled.
Lewis’ defense attorneys carefully detailed his abusive childhood, which included Lewis watching his father treat his mother brutally and endure beatings and verbal abuse of his own.
His mother, Tammesa Jones, described beating the boy while she abused drugs and alcohol.
“I’d hit him with a belt, hit him with my fists. … I would hit him all over,” Jones said, breaking down in tears. “I hit him, probably like, every day.”
Killed in the robbery were the bar’s owner, Young Suk Fero, 53, and customers Daria M. Pohl, 21, Kellene Fallon, 44, and Tereasa Beesley, 45, all of Denver; and Ross Richter, 29, of Overland Park, Kansas.
Denver Chief Deputy District Attorney Joe Morales said the victims’ relatives knew it was possible Lewis would not get the death penalty and they had accepted the verdict.
“We believe the death penalty was the appropriate punishment but the system worked and we have no regrets about what we have done and what we sought in this case,” Morales said. “Nobody is walking away a winner or a loser today.”
Jurors declined to comment as deputies escorted them out of the courthouse.
Lewis’ accomplices, brothers Joseph and Lynell Hill, pleaded guilty to murder under deals with prosecutors and received lengthy sentences.
The other man, Demarea Harris, was a confidential informant at the time for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and reported the slayings to authorities. He was not charged in the case.
Harris and Lynell Hill testified that Lewis stabbed all five people. Joseph Hill refused to testify.
Earlier this month, a separate jury in Arapahoe County rejected the death penalty for Holmes, the theater shooter, who was convicted of murdering 12 people and trying to kill 70 others.
In the Holmes case, the defense argued that Holmes was mentally ill.
Under Colorado law, juries must unanimously agree to impose death sentences.
At least one juror sided with Lewis’ defense team that his abusive childhood was a mitigating factor that favored a life sentence over execution.
No Denver jury has sentenced someone to death since 1986. Colorado has not executed anyone since 1997.
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