Renee Burrington was shaking, holding a framed picture of her sister as she stood before Berrien County Trial Court Judge Gordon Hosbein. She had waited a year and a half for this day, to address the man found guilty of killing her sister in August 2017.
John Lewis, 49, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole Monday in the death of his wife, 55-year-old Carla Lewis. He was found guilty on Feb. 20 of premeditated murder after a two-week trial.
"I wake up every morning wishing it was a bad dream. I go to sleep every night reliving the night that I got a phone call from my dad telling me my sister had been shot and killed," Burrington said in court. "I have nightmares thinking about how she died. She was all alone except for her killer, you, John, her husband who was supposed to protect her. Carla did not deserve this horrible ending."
While the judge asked those speaking not to turn and face Lewis, that did not stop any of them from sharing their pain and anger.
Renee Burrington's husband, Len Burrington, thanked everyone who helped get justice for Carla.
"May you burn in hell," he told Lewis.
Danielle Damico, Carla's daughter, told Lewis she's sorry her mom ever met him.
"In my 30 years of life, I never thought I would be writing this, much less to you, someone who I loved and trusted," Damico said. "You're absolutely sick, John, and now you will live with the decision you made for the rest of your worthless life."
Christy Pruett, Carla's other daughter, talked about the ray of light that was robbed from the family. She told Lewis he didn't deserve to even know her mother, let alone be loved and taken care of by her.
"Carla was such a loving and caring person. She put everyone else, including you, before herself. She was an angel on earth," Renee Burrington said. "I hope every day of the rest of your life this haunts you, and I know your judgment day will not be peaceful."
Lewis maintained his innocence. His attorney, Jolene Weiner-Vatter, told the judge she advised Lewis not to speak. Instead she spoke for him.
"Mr. Lewis loves and loved Carla Lewis. He cooked for her, he cleaned for her, he loved her," Weiner-Vatter said. "Mr. Lewis maintains his innocence and adamantly states that the killers of Carla Lewis are still in the community."
Since Carla's death, Lewis has maintained that two men broke into their Niles Township home and shot his wife while they were in a small marijuana grow room in the couple's basement.
Lewis was also found guilty of possession with intent to manufacture marijuana. He had a license to grow up to 12 plants, but the fact that Carla was found inside the grow room showed that others had access to the room, which is a violation.
During the trial, Weiner-Vatter argued that no murder weapon was ever found and that a palm print collected from a door of the home could not be identified. Evidence collected from Carla's car, which Lewis said the gunmen stole, contained DNA from someone other than Lewis, the defense argued.
Weiner-Vatter also said Lewis' marijuana operation made him a target. Up until his arrest, Lewis owned the SevenleavesCompassion Club at 1046 Bell Road in Niles, which is now closed.
The prosecution presented a different picture of Lewis. Berrien County Assistant Prosecutor Jerry Vigansky spoke of alleged affairs Lewis was having with multiple women. Lewis allegedly discussed with one of those women that he wanted to kill his wife. Vigansky also presented evidence that Carla had a $246,000 life insurance policy and $70,000 in retirement money, with Lewis listed as the beneficiary.
After the sentencing, Carla's family and friends hugged and celebrated outside the courtroom.
While speaking during the sentencing was emotional, Burrington had a smile on her face afterward.
"I feel fantastic," she said about the life sentence. "Now I just hope every day is a haunting day for him."
Burrington had written and rewritten what she would say to Carla's killer since her sister's death. Now she can put thoughts of Lewis behind her, she said, and just dwell on the good memories of Carla.
She'll hold tight to the memories, like the one in the picture she was holding, which Carla sent her on Snapchat.
Every day when Carla got in her car to go to work, she would send Burrington a funny picture of herself.
"When I look at her, it's not sad," Burrington said. "It's sad I can't hold her, but I look at her picture and it helps me."
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