Update: A jury has found Dexter Lewis guilty of ten murder counts in the 2012 slayings at Fero's Bar & Grill — two for each of the five victims.
Next comes the penalty phase in Denver's first death-penalty trial since in well over a decade.
Continue for our previous coverage.
Update, 5:59 a.m. August 6: The first death penalty trial in Denver since 2001 has moved quickly — much more so than the proceeding in the Aurora theater shooting, which has overshadowed it.
The prosecution of Dexter Lewis for the brutal murder of five people at Fero's Bar & Grill just shy of three years ago, and the setting of a fire, to cover it up, got underway on July 20; see our previous coverage below.
And now, the case has gone to the jury, whose members will decide if Lewis should spend the rest of his days in prison or die for his alleged crimes.
As we've reported, the victims — Daria Pohl, Young Fero, Ross Richter, Teresa Beesley and Kellene Fallon — were stabbed to death during the early morning hours of October 17, 2012.
Afterward, Demarea Harris, who was at the scene with Lewis and brothers Lynell and Joseph Hill, who've already pleaded guilty for their actions, went to the authorities and told his story.
Harris's claims form the backbone of the prosecution's case against Lewis — and the defense team has focused on him in its attempt to save the defendant's life.
For one thing, Lewis's lawyers tried to create doubt that their client was the person who'd worn a pair of Oakland Raiders gloves during the stabbing of Pohl and the others.
Harris is said to have owned such gloves — and as noted by the Denver Post, the DNA of all those killed was found on the gloves despite their having been doused in bleach in an apparent effort to conceal evidence.
However, an expert testified that while testing had ruled out the DNA of Harris and the Hill brothers, it didn't exclude Lewis, too.
That left defense attorney Chris Bauman to question Harris's motives in closing arguments.
"This blame-shifting co-defendant was testifying for his life," he told the jury, as documented by CBS4. "He was here to fulfill his plea bargain. His plea bargain was to, in his words, 'cooperate'.... And he knew it was only a matter of time before the police came looking for the Hill brothers.
"He needed to beat them to the punch, and he knew that the first to talk was the first to walk."
In response, prosecutor Joseph Morales argued that Harris's only motive for talking to the cops was a desire for justice — and spoke forcefully about the brutality that took place.
"This is about viciously killing five innocent victims," Morales said in his own summation, "viciously stabbing them over and over and over and over because they got a look at your face. Because you had to do it after the first."
The jury could come back with its decision as soon as today — possibly before we learn about the fate of Aurora theater shooter James Holmes.
The theater shooting jury is in its final phase as well, though — meaning that Denver's first death penalty trial in more than a decade could once again receive comparatively modest attention despite a tremendous and tragic loss of life.
Here's the aforementioned CBS4 report, followed by our previous coverage.
Original post, 8:09 a.m. July 20: The national focus on the Aurora theater shooting trial, and the still-pending question of whether convicted killer James Holmes will be sentenced to death, has overshadowed another capital case that would likely be the biggest story in the Denver area under other circumstances.
The crime in question: the five slayings at Fero's Bar & Grill in 2012.
Two of the three people charged in the massacre — brothers Lynell and Joseph Hill — pleaded guilty for their actions. Joseph received five life sentences, while Lynell was handed seventy years behind bars.
However, the death penalty is being sought for Dexter Lewis, the alleged ringleader in the killings — the first time this has been done in Denver since 2001.
Opening arguments in the case are slated to begin today. Here's background about what happened on that terrible night nearly three years ago.
Early on the morning of October 17, 2012, as we've reported, Denver police arrived at Fero's, 357 South Colorado Boulevard, after firefighters had already entered the premises and found five bodies later identified as Daria Pohl, Young Fero, Ross Richter, Teresa Beesley and Kellene Fallon.
Here's a photo of Pohl....
...her friend Richter....
...and bar owner Fero:
The victims were removed from the structure and placed on the sidewalk area in front of the business as the fire was addressed.
Investigators quickly determined that the blaze had been intentionally set, with an accelerant having been used to feed it.
There was evidence aplenty inside, but what really broke open the case was a call from an informant. The man is unidentified in the affidavit for Joseph Hill, on view below along with charging documents, but at a 2013 status hearing, he was divulged to be Demarea Harris, who turns out to have been both a friend of Joseph Hill and Lewis, as well as an informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
That Harris was publicly identified in such a violent case at this stage qualified as a surprise, especially given a subsequent revelation from the affidavit: He told police that he was on the scene when the killings took place. Moreover, he maintained that what may have seemed like a robbery gone wrong was actually a semi-targeted assassination in which theft was more a byproduct than a primary motive.
Harris told cops he'd gone to Fero's with Lewis and the Hills, traveling there in a vehicle that had contained a couple of masks — one reportedly depicting Iron Man, the other the Incredible Hulk.
Upon their arrival, Harris said the Hills stayed in the car while he and Lewis went inside, ordered some food and shot some pool. He added that Lewis was apparently familiar with two of the women — Fero, the venue's owner, among them — and was mad at them for "reasons that [he] was unclear about," the affidavit states. In the 2013 hearing, though, Harris testified that Fero had once kicked Lewis out of the bar, and the other woman had expelled him and his girlfriend from their apartment.
A short time later, Harris said he went to the bathroom, and when he returned, the Hills were inside, disguised by the masks, and the five other people in the bar were on the floor, being held at gunpoint. Joseph demanded identification and credit cards, and when the male patron — Richter — "appeared to refuse to comply," he became upset and used a knife also in his possession to stab him several times in the back and side. He then allegedly gave the knife to Lewis, who stabbed two of the women on the floor, with Joseph joining in and helping to stab the others to death as well.
At that point, Harris said he ran out the back door while the men were pouring alcohol on the bodies; that was apparently the accelerant suspected by the arson squad. As he fled down Colorado Boulevard, the vehicle containing the Hills and Lewis screeched to a stop. Lewis yelled for Harris to get into the car, the affidavit allows, and he did. They then traveled to Joseph's apartment, where they cut and burned the latex gloves they'd been wearing and used bleach on their clothing to destroy evidence from the scene.
They also divided up the money they'd taken from the bar — a reported $170, of which Harris was given $28.
Afterward, Harris was given a ride home. Once there, he said Lewis kissed him and said something to the effect of "Blood in, blood out," which he took to mean that he needed to keep quiet about what he'd seen.
He didn't — and the Hills and Lewis were taken into custody at separate Denver-area hotels within hours.
After Morrissey announced that he would go after the death penalty for Lewis, the ACLU of Colorado issued the following statement:
"The ACLU of Colorado is disappointed by Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey's decision to pursue the death penalty in this case. The death penalty is immoral, unjust, and expensive, and every execution and death warrant perpetuates an arbitrary system that can and does make irreversible mistakes.
"When prosecutors choose to pursue death, as Morrissey did today, they validate a deeply flawed system and disregard the substantive costs, both in terms of morality and actual taxpayer dollars, that accompany their decision."
Morrissey's response at the time: "I've been in the Denver DA's Office for thirty years and I've never seen a case where there were five people were killed at the hand of one individual. We have a man and four women that were allegedly laid down on the floor of a bar and butchered. Based on that, I think it's appropriate for us to seek the death penalty."
Both of the Hills are expected to testify against Lewis.
Continue to see booking photos for Lewis and the Hills, followed by the aforementioned affidavit and charging documents, plus a previous 7News piece about the tragedy.