alert and screaming.Morales
forcefully rejected the defense attorney's plea for mercy for Lewis
. Dexter Lewis
, who stabbed five people to death in 2012, will spend the rest of his life in prison. Lewis
' father, a well-known member of the Crips, was shot and killed in a gang-related attack in early 1994.As a child, Lewis
watched his stepfather at the time, Phillip Nash, beat his mother, Jones said. Pohl, 21; Kellene Fallon, 44; Ross Richter, 29; and Tereasa Beesley, 45, were killed in the attack on Oct.
WATCH: Jordan Steffen provides analysis as Dexter Lewis receives a life sentence for murdering five people in Fero's Bar & Grill
WATCH: Denver Chief Deputy District Attorneys react to the life sentence for Dexter Lewis
When a Denver jury on Thursday spared a convicted mass killer the death penalty, a confused silence enveloped the courtroom. Dexter Lewis, who stabbed five people to death in 2012, will spend the rest of his life in prison. But the complex wording on the verdict forms that the judge read initially caused quizzical looks instead of tears or smiles.
Attorneys sat stoically at their tables, the family of one of the victims quietly bowed their heads and Lewis stared down at his hands.
His family ran out into the hallway. The first thing to break the silence in the courtroom ? unclear whether it was joy or anger ? was the sound of their screams. Only after the judge thanked the jury for their service did the abrupt conclusion of the six-week trial become abundantly clear.
Almost three years after Lewis joined in on a robbery that spiraled into a gruesome massacre, the case came to a blunt and dazed ending.
After deliberating for less than three hours Thursday, at least one member of the jury of 10 women and two men found that the details of Lewis' life that suggested mercy ? including chronic abuse and neglect ? outweighed the heinous details of the crime that suggested death.
That finding means Denver District Judge John Madden IV will sentence Lewis, 25, to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murders of five people at Fero's Bar & Grill.
Young Suk Fero, 63; Daria M. Pohl, 21; Kellene Fallon, 44; Ross Richter, 29; and Tereasa Beesley, 45, were killed in the attack on Oct. 17, 2012.
"Nobody is walking away a winner or loser today," chief deputy district attorney Joe Morales said after the verdict was read. "There are no winners in these cases."
Lewis' sentence is the final one handed down in connection to the attack.
Brothers Joseph and Lynell Hill planned the robbery before Lewis joined. The two were charged with similar counts and accepted plea agreements, agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors.
Joseph Hill, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole, violated his plea agreement and refused to testify during Lewis' trial. He previously had stated that he wants to withdraw his plea, but prosecutors do not appear willing to grant the request.
Lynell Hill, sentenced to 70 years in prison, was the first witness called and testified that Lewis fatally stabbed all five victims.
A fourth man connected to the crime, Demarea Harris, also testified during the trial. Harris was working as a confidential informant for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives at the time of the attack and reported it to his handlers hours later. He was never charged or arrested in the case.
After the jury filed out of the courtroom Thursday, defense attorneys embraced and patted Lewis on the back. Morales spoke in hushed tones with family members of the victims.
He held one woman's hand as they spoke.
For the second time in the same month, a mass murderer was spared the death penalty in the state. No jury in Colorado has sentenced a defendant to death since 2009.
But unlike the Aurora theater shooting trial, which also ended in a life sentence for the gunman, jurors in this case stopped one step short of completing all three phases of the sentencing hearing.
Lewis was convicted Aug. 10 of first-degree murder for all five victims, launching the case into the sentencing hearing.
Jurors quickly completed the first phase of the hearing by finding that the details of the crime were so horrible they could warrant a death sentence. But during the past week, as part of the second phase, defense attorneys presented details of the abuse Lewis suffered even before his birth.
His mother, Tammesa Jones, drank heavily during her pregnancy and hit her stomach while she was pregnant with Dexter. Lewis' father, a well-known member of the Crips, was shot and killed in a gang-related attack in early 1994.
As a child, Lewis watched his stepfather at the time, Phillip Nash, beat his mother, Jones said. He listened as Jones was sexually assaulted in the next room.
Lewis' mother testified that she routinely hit her young son ? often with a closed fist.
During his closing arguments Thursday, defense attorney Christopher Baumann leaned heavily on testimony from Lewis' family about the abuse he experienced as a child, coupled with expert testimony about the long-term impacts of such abuse.
"Some may think that this is an excuse," Baumann said, "but which of these life stories would anyone take as their own?"
Baumann urged the jury to look at a photograph of a young Lewis smiling with other children at a summer barbecue. He asked them to look into the eyes of a young boy who, just hours after the photograph was taken, would be bloodied and beaten by his mother.
But Morales asked the jury to look at a different photograph.
He asked them to look at the autopsy photo of Daria Pohl. She and the rest of the victims died with their eyes open ? alert and screaming.
Morales forcefully rejected the defense attorney's plea for mercy for Lewis. He detailed the multiple stab wounds on each of the victims and the brutality of the crime.
"What could possibly mitigate that?" he asked the jury.
Morales ticked off what Lewis' family glowingly described as his many roles: artist, musician, church leader.
"He is also a killer of five innocent victims. He is Dexter Lewis," Morales said. "You can add up the stab wounds. You can add up the pints of blood."
Had the case reached the third and final phase of the sentencing, the victims' families would have testified about how the deaths of their loved ones changed their lives.
Many of those families were not at the courthouse when the decision was read. Pohl's family gathered at their home as the news came down. Her mother, Zinaida Pohl, declined to speak Thursday evening when reached by phone.
After the verdict was read, Morales said he still believes death was the appropriate sentence in this case.
"We have no regrets about what we've done in this case or what we sought in this case. There are cases that are going to come across our community where the death penalty is the appropriate penalty. It is one that needs to be sought," Morales said. "And if the jury does not decide unanimously that it is the right penalty, we respect that."
Morales and deputy district attorney Matt Wenig thanked the jurors for their service.
Eight of the jurors left in a group and were escorted out of the courthouse by three sheriff's deputies, and the jurors who left individually also had a deputy escort. All refused to speak to the media.
Defense attorneys also declined to comment Thursday.
A group of Lewis' family members came out of the courthouse together, and one woman gave a loud "whoop!" but did not stop to talk with reporters.
Attorneys and Lewis will return to the courthouse at 10 a.m. Friday to set a date for a formal sentencing hearing. On that date, the judge will formally impose the sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Jordan Steffen: 303-954-1794, [email protected] or twitter.com/jsteffendp
Staff writers Jesse Paul, Kieran Nicholson and Noelle Phillips contributed to this report.
Ross Richter, 29, of Overland Park, Kan., had worked as a river ranger for the Bureau of Land Management since 2009. "You always smiled when you saw him, no matter what mood you were in," park ranger Teri Parvin said.
Kelline Fallon, 45, was known affectionately as "crazy Kelly" because she liked to make people laugh by acting silly. A regular patron at the bar, she stayed in a motel in the area and worked assorted jobs, friends said.
Tereasa Beesley, 45, grew up in the eastern Montana town of Sidney and recently had bought the Maxim Lounge, about 4 miles from Fero's. She left behind a daughter who was 15 and a son who was 20.
Young Suk Fero, 63, owned the bar. "Customers were her life. They were her friends ? people she knew and trusted," her estranged husband, Danny Duane Fero, said. "She didn't have a mean bone in her body."
Daria "Dasha" Pohl, 22, worked at the Holiday Inn near the bar. She was a sophomore at Metropolitan State University of Denver and planned to transfer to the University of Colorado Denver to pursue a business degree.