DA, defense agree Crawford Lewis should get probation


DIGGING DEEPER

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2009 questioned construction contracts involving architect Tony Pope, who was married to the DeKalb school district’s chief operating officer. The AJC also reported that Superintendent Crawford Lewis and COO Pat Reid had bought their county cars at deeply discounted prices. The three were indicted in May 2010 and the AJC has tracked the case as the indictment went through three versions, and as it came to trial 3 1/2 years later.

Though on opposite sides of on his guilt and innocence when former DeKalb County School Superintendent Crawford Lewis was facing criminal charges, the prosecutor and the defense attorney agreed Tuesday in a hearing before the Georgia Court of Appeals.

Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Lenora Grant and Lewis’ attorney Mike Brown agreed there was an agreement between the sides for probation for Lewis if he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction to avoid risking racketeering and theft convictions and up to 65 years in prison.

But Judge Cynthia Becker breached that agreement when she said the former educator should spend 12 months in jail instead of on probation, the two attorneys said.

“It was clear this (plea) agreement would work only if the trial judge was in agreement,” Brown said. “Dr. Lewis would not have plead guilty to a crime that involved jail time.”

Both Brown and Grant said Becker agreed to the punishment in a meeting in chambers before the trial last fall and during his plea in court in October.

”We all thought Crawford Lewis would be sentenced to probation,” Grant told the three-judge appeals court panel, which must rule by Dec. 1.

Becker’s position was not represented in the 30-minute hearing. Trial judges do not comment on their decisions beyond what they say in court .

But when she sentenced Lewis almost nine months ago, Becker said she was ignoring prosecutors’ recommendation of probation because she doubted the veracity of the former educator’s testimony in the racketeering trial of former chief operating officer Pat Reid and her ex-husband architect Tony Pope. Reid was sentenced to 15 years in prison and Pope was sentenced to eight. The judge also said she was disturbed by Lewis details of what he knew of the two using the district’s construction program to benefit themselves.

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

Lewis was immediately taken to jail after Becker refused to set a bond until she heard his motion to withdraw his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge during a hearing more than a week off, after she returned from vacation.

Lewis was released after spending five days in jail because the Court of Appeals ruled bond is mandatory in misdemeanor cases

Prosecutors and defense lawyers said using Lewis testimony against him would violate his Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination.

“Mr. Lewis should get the benefit of his plea,” Grant said.