By St. John Barned-Smith
BELLAIRE, Texas — The question prosecutors and defense attorneys argued over in court Friday was: What happened in the minute before a Bellaire police officer was shot to death?
Prosecutors said Harlem Harold Lewis III executed the veteran officer two years ago as he was trying to pull Lewis out of his car and arrest him.
"You knew you had that gun, and you went for it," assistant Harris County District Attorney Anna Emmons told Lewis when cross-examining him.
Defense attorneys said the 23-year-old had not meant to kill Jimmie Norman. Lewis testified that the gun "went off" as he was struggling with the corporal.
"What matters is what happened in that car in those few moments of struggle," defense attorney Pat McCann told jurors.
After two hours of deliberating, jurors sided with prosecutors, finding Lewis guilty of capital murder in the deaths of Norman and businessman Terry Taylor in the Christmas Eve 2012 shootings.
Lewis showed little emotion as the jury verdict was announced about 3:40 p.m.
Moments earlier, district Judge Mark Kent Ellis warned the gallery in the packed courtroom not to react. A classmate of Lewis' waited with her hands clasped as the jurors filed into the courtroom after deliberating.
Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, who presented closing arguments, has declined to comment. She had said earlier that she would personally try the case, fulfilling a promise her late husband made when he was the DA to personally prosecute accused cop killers.
McCann said that Lewis was in shock after the verdict. McCann also said he hoped to avoid a death penalty in the sentencing phase of the trial, set to begin Monday.
"There doesn't need to be another death in this tragedy," he said.
Began with traffic stop
Closing arguments earlier Friday from both prosecutors and defense attorneys lasted just more than 30 minutes.
"What kind of man puts a gun to the head of a uniformed police officer and pulls the trigger?" asked Anderson, her voice quavering slightly as she described the risks police officers deal with every day.
"Every time they pull a car over ... they know they could die. And they take that on," she said.
Shortly after Anderson finished speaking, a Bellaire police officer left the courtroom in tears.
McCann and Tyrone Moncriffe, another of Lewis' lawyers, said their client panicked when he was being pulled over because he had been raised to fear police.
The day of the shooting, Lewis was driving in a residential area of Bellaire when Norman tried to stop him.
After fleeing and rear-ending a white pickup, Lewis pulled in at Taylor's body shop. Norman approached the car and wrestled with Lewis for about a minute in an attempt to get him out of the vehicle and place him in cuffs.
Then, Norman was fatally shot in the head.
Tracked by blood trail
Witnesses testified Taylor came out to see what was going on and to try to help Norman, a 24-year law-enforcement veteran. But Lewis, who had stepped out of his car, also shot him, witnesses said, then pointed his gun at the driver of the pickup, who had followed him until he stopped at Taylor's Maaco body shop.
Other officers arrived in the middle of the confrontation and shot at a fleeing Lewis 23 times, hitting him twice. Police followed a trail of blood to find him hiding under a truck about a block away.
Lewis appeared in court dressed in slacks and a light-blue dress shirt and tie, with a combed-out Afro. He spoke quietly, in succinct "yes ma'am" or "no sir" responses to questions, but contradicted himself repeatedly.
When questioned by his defense team, he told them that the gun "went off" as he and Norman wrestled. But later, Emmons, the prosecutor, asked him if he'd "executed" the police officer, to which he replied, "Yes ma'am."
McCann explained the testimony by saying that Lewis had difficulty communicating and had a low IQ.
"He's easy to trap, it's why we were reluctant to put him up (on the stand), but if we didn't, no one would understand what happened in that vehicle," he said.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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