LA MARQUE — The trial of a teenage boy accused of fatally stabbing a woman 28 times ended Tuesday with his conviction on a capital murder charge and an automatic life sentence.
A jury of eight women and four men deliberated 6½ hours before reaching its verdict. The panel found Jor’Dan Jacqueinn Maurice Lewis, 16, guilty in the slaying of Vaneeda Wright, 84. Prosecutors said Wright was killed in the course of a robbery.
Wright’s daughter and young grandson found her dead May 29, 2011, in her La Marque home on Prune Street. Wright’s body was on her kitchen floor in a pool of blood, and a butcher knife was left embedded in her cheek.
On Tuesday, Wright’s family breathed a sigh of relief, and Lewis stared at the defense table as visiting Judge David Garner read the jury’s verdict. The trial was in Galveston’s Constitutional Courtroom at the Justice Center.
About an hour later, Garner sentenced Lewis to life in prison as required by law, but Lewis, because of his age, becomes eligible for parole after 40 years. Lewis was too young to face the death penalty. He could be the youngest person certified in Galveston County to stand trial as an adult on a capital murder charge.
Five days of testimony
Prosecutors Kevin Petroff and Rebecca Russell spent five days presenting evidence that included crime scene photographs, a palm print and DNA testimony.
After receiving multiple stab wounds, Wright was likely alive at least 20 minutes before she died, Dr. Stephen Pustilnik, Galveston County’s chief medical examiner, testified Monday.
Two knives and possibly a two-pronged barbecue fork were used in the attack.
‘Animals like you’
After Garner pronounced the sentence, Deborah Tagle read a statement to Lewis, praising law enforcement for making a quick arrest and telling Lewis he butchered her mother, the family matriarch, the glue that held her family together.
“My greatest wish is you remain caged up like the animal you are,” Tagle told Lewis, who stared at the table during the statement.
Defense attorney Margaret Hindman told the jury that Lewis, who was 14 at the time of the slaying, wasn’t solely to blame and that evidence not collected from the crime scene could have implicated another person in the killing. Lewis also befriended adult men, who let him use their apartment the weekend of the murder for sex with women. Drinking and drug use were also prevalent, testimony revealed.
Authorities collected a palm print from the face of a floor cabinet that was directly above Wright’s body. Testimony revealed the print was a match for Lewis.
A day after the killing, Lewis met with La Marque police, and an officer found earrings in his pocket. The earring contained DNA from Lewis and Wright’s family.
A neighbor last saw Wright alive at 1:30 p.m. Thirty minutes later, the neighbor saw Lewis walk up to the home, but he couldn’t see whether Lewis went inside. Lewis was once a neighbor of Wright’s and played with her grandson.
‘Hit a lick’
Kimberly Jackson, 25, of La Marque testified she had sex with Lewis, and two days later he spoke of wanting to “hit a lick” on the day of the killing. La Marque police said the phrase is slang for committing robbery or burglary.
Jackson also testified she was a passenger in a car driven by Travis Mills, who took them to Wright’s neighborhood. Lewis left for an hour, and she and Mills picked up Lewis from in front of Wright’s house. Lewis carried a pillowcase full of jewelry, Jackson said.
Mills, 22, awaits trial on charges of aggravated robbery and tampering with evidence.
Jackson also testified that when Lewis entered the car with the jewelry, he said he killed somebody but later he said he was just kidding.
Petroff told the jury Lewis made a second confession to a woman after having sex with her.
Judge Michelle Slaughter of Galveston’s 405th District Court appointed attorney Winston Cochran to handle Lewis’ appeal, Garner said.