Reasonable doubt: Charges dropped on eve of murder trial

News-DemocratNovember 15, 2013 

Rodney Lewis brought a knife to a gunfight and won, said his lawyers after murder charges against Lewis were dropped on the eve of his trial.

Lewis, 29, of East St. Louis, faced first-degree murder charges in the death of Michael Barton, 18, who died on Sept. 24, 2012.

Police found Barton on the street with multiple stab wounds in his chest. Police originally said Lewis returned to the scene with a shotgun to shoot Barton's relatives. Officers working the crime scene fired shots at Lewis, said Lewis' lawyer, Thomas Q. Keefe III.

As the case was being investigated in preparation for trial, witnesses said Barton may have originally possessed the gun, according to Keefe and Lewis' other lawyer, Patrick Sullivan.

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly recommended the charges be dismissed on Thursday. St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert Haida signed the dismissal.

"Because of the efforts of two prosecutors, exculpatory evidence was exposed to which raised reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant," Kelly said. After the information was confirmed, the case was dismissed, he said.

"Every case has its strengths and weaknesses but if at anytime, anytime, we know we can no longer meet our burden, it is our duty to dismiss. We aggressively prosecute violent crime but in doing so we will not violate our oaths to seek justice and not merely convict."

Rosalind Davis, Lewis' mother, said Friday that she dropped to her knees when she heard the case was dismissed and thanked God.

"I didn't think it would happen like this," Davis said.

Keefe praised Kelly's decision to dismiss the murder charge.

"The role of the prosecutor is to do justice, and justice was done in this case," Keefe said. "Our client has always maintained his innocence and both he and his family will be forever grateful that Brendan Kelly is a man of integrity who did the right thing."

Lewis spent 400 days in the county jail, with bail set at $1 million. His trial was scheduled to begin Monday.

Though the charges were dismissed Thursday, Lewis was not released from jail until Friday because of a warrant for an unpaid traffic fine in Madison County.

Davis planned to take Lewis to see his children after his release.

"I'm going to hug him. Just hug him." Davis said.

Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 239-2570.

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