DA, defense agree plea for ex-DeKalb school chief should be honored

DA, defense agree plea for ex-DeKalb school chief should be honored

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Ben Gray
Former DeKalb School Superintendent Crawford Lewis listens to arguments in the Georgia Court of Appeals on Monday July 22, 2014 where his attorney argued that a negotiated plea he had entered should be reinstated. BEN GRAY / BGRAY@AJC.COM

Former DeKalb School Superintendent Crawford Lewis deserves to get what he was promised when he pleaded guilty to avoid a felony trial and possibly decades in prison, his attorney and prosecutors said Tuesday in arguments before the Georgia Court of Appeals.

The three judge panel did not rule immediately.

Defense attorney Mike Brown and prosecutor Lenora Grant, were in an unusual situation. They were agreeing on virtually everything in that the judge should honor the probation sentence given Lewis in a plea agreement.

“There’s no argument here,” Grant said.”We all thought Crawford Lewis would be sentenced to probation.”

There was no one arguing on behalf of DeKalb Superior Court Judge Cynthia Becker, who in December sentenced Lewis to 12 months in jail instead of probation as had been previously negotiated.

Brown and Grant both said Becker breached the plea deal that was struck so Lewis would testify against former DeKalb schools’ chief operating officer Pat Reid and and her then architect Tony Pope, who were both convicted of racketeering for using the district’s construction program to enrich themselves.

Lewis was initially charged in a May 2010 indictment with racketeering. He was facing up to 65 years in prison when he pleaded guilty last fall, two weeks before he was to go on trial, to a misdemeanor charge that he interfered with a criminal investigation of Reid, Pope and himself.

The plea agreement was that Lewis would testify truthfully against Reid and Pope in exchange for a probation. Both Reid and Pope are now in prison; Reid serving 15 years for racketeering and theft and Pope serving eight years f0r racketeering.

Yet, Becker doubted Lewis honored his promise to testify honestly so she sentenced the former educator to serve 12 months in jail, instead of 12 months on probation. Becker said she was disturbed by his testimony.

“The words I heard out of his (Lewis’) mouth when he testified, and I took notes, are the basis for the court’s sentence,” Becker said on Dec. 9 when she sentenced all three.

Becker said in court that one of the conditions of the deal was that Lewis testify truthfully.

Lewis testified to the problems he saw with the district’s construction projects but did nothing to stop Reid from sending business to Pope or to firms affiliated with him.

Prosecutors insisted at Tuesday’s hearing that Becker had agreed to the plea deal and that Lewis had done what he promised. In a petition filed with the Georgia Court of Appeals the DA’s office again noted that “It appears clear from the record before this court that on Oct. 16, 2013, the trial court bound itself to the plea agreement.”

When Lewis tried to withdraw his plea on Dec. 9, Becker stressed that he would again be facing a racketeering charge and three counts of theft by taking by a government official. Becker also said Lewis’ testimony against Reid and Pope could be used against him.

She told him he was again risking 65 years in prison if he were convicted of all the felony charges.

Becker refused to set bond immediately and Lewis was then handcuffed and taken to jail. The judge scheduled a hearing on his lawyers’ motion to withdraw the plea for more than a week later, after she returned from vacation. The Georgia Court of Appeals said, however, bond is mandatory in misdemeanor cases, and Lewis was released after spending five days in the DeKalb County Jail.

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