Amanda Lewis reminds me of the Casey Anthony case, the “mother” who undoubtedly murdered her little 2-year-old girl Caylee Anthony, then somehow convinced a jury that the child had accidentally drowned in her parent’s pool. Coincidentally, this murder also involved a pool. I won’t even dwell on that the Casey story. It gets me too angry. The Lewis case however has almost a light at the end of the tunnel, since the murderous mom is found guilty of killing her 7-year-old daughter, Adrianna. At least this case had a “happy” ending in terms of retribution and imprisonment.
A Happy Family
Eslo – Floria – Population of this town is, brace yourself, 361 people (360 now I should imagine). It’s the kind of town where you blink and you’ll miss it. Even people who live there have stated there’s little to see. Lewis was a single mother of two children, living in a modest home. The way she described her children made them sound like an ordinary family. About Adrianna Lewis stated, “She was a happy child. She was very outgoing, very hyper. … She looked like me, she act like me, she was headstrong like me. She was like my walking shadow.” A.J. was the calmer, more relaxed child. “He was quiet. He could sit in the corner and play by his self and be content and happy.” Lucky for A.J. That might have saved his life.
August 8, 2007 would be the family’s last day together. A nurse’s assistant at a nursing home, Lewis said she left her night shift and napped while the kids watched cartoons. The plan for the day was to shop for school supplies. The temperature exceeded 100 degrees and naturally the kids wanted to swim. “I told them that we couldn’t get in the pool today because we were getting ready to go. So they wanted to go outside and play for a few minutes while I got everything ready,” she said. Outside in the yard sat a 4-foot deep, above-ground pool. Without adult supervision, it was off limits to the kids, with the pool ladder locked in the shed. Lewis said A.J. came back into the house.
“He said, ‘Mama, Adrianna is in the pool,'” she said. “At first I thought he meant maybe she was by the pool and I said, “OK, well, tell her to come in.’ But as soon as she looked out the back door at A.J., she knew something was terribly wrong. “He was raking in the water with his hand, like he was trying to grab her … I ran out, ran out of the house. When I got to the pool … she was face down. … She was very purple, very blue.” Lewis made a frantic phone call to 9-1-1 stating that she had found her child in the family pool, not breathing. “Send an ambulance please. My daughter fell in the pool and she’s not breathing. Her lips are purple, what do I do? Water’s just coming out of her nose. Please hurry.”
Emergency personnel rushed Adrianna to the nearby hospital Bay Medical where she was pronounced dead about an hour after arrival. At first, authorities believed Adrianna’s death was an accident. “She went in over the side of that pool, leaned too far,” said Fire Chief Charles Corcoran, who was the first to respond to Lewis’ 911 call. “She went down into the water and hit her head.” Holmes County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Michael Raley, one of the first investigators at the scene, said there were “no indicators of foul play, no — nothing of that. It was just, you know, a child playing in the pool drowned.”
During the investigation police discovered that Adrianna had been diagnosed with ADHD and Lewis stated that while she initially had trouble bonding with her daughter, her affection for Adrianna had grown over time. Investigators also found that neither Adrianna or A.J. appeared to have any toys in the house, to which Lewis stated that the toys had been taken away for a week as a form of punishment and that the toys were stored in a shed. After searching the shed, investigators noted that there were no toys in the shed or any evidence to suggest that they had been there. The home also smelled of urine.
Dr. Renee Fox, the emergency room physician who had handled Adrianna’s medical care, informed investigators that Lewis had not shown any emotion or reaction when informed that her daughter had died. “When I asked her if she had any questions after I described her daughter’s condition, she asked me where the vending machine was. I didn’t see tears, I saw just no emotion. You know, you tell a mother their 7-year-old daughter died, and you expect some reaction.”
Within hours, the police had news that would shatter their theories of what happened. A.J. told police “Mama dunked my sister.”He described his mother in a fit of anger, incensed after Adrianna sprayed glass cleanser in the house. “She done some stuff that she ain’t suppose so my mama got mad, so she throwed her in the pool,” he said. His mother, he said, repeatedly dunked Adrianna, drowning her. In an interview later that night with a trained child protection team officer, he repeated his story.
History of Tragedies
As a teenager, Lewis gave birth to a son, Alex. Brenda Burns said her daughter was a young but loving mother. At 16 months old, Alex suddenly stopped breathing. Lewis said she had left the room while he was napping. The autopsy results indicated the baby died unexpectedly because of a seizure disorder. But now, having lost a second child, eyebrows were raised. For prosecutor Larry Basford, it was one more red flag against Lewis. “I call it something relevant to look at when you’re looking at everything in a case.”
Eventually Lewis was submitted to and passed a lie detector test where she claimed that she had not killed her daughter. In September 2007 Lewis was arrested and charged with the first-degree murder of Adrianna. She was offered a plea bargain that would have required her to plead guilty to manslaughter and receive a ten year sentence, which she declined in favor of going to trial. Evil and stupid. There’s an interesting combination. How might she have passed the test? In her mind she may have held the child underwater only long enough to frighten and punish her and was shocked to find she had killed her. That might be enough to fool a lie detector.
The defense argued that A. J. was not a reliable witness, as his story had changed several times during further questioning. He claimed his mother sent Adrianna to a local park and then followed her there in a car, dunking her before and after the park trip. At one point, he said he hadn’t seen the crime. Dr. Stephen Ceci, an expert in children’s testimony described the police interview of A.J. as “highly insufficient.” He said extra care is required to interview kids, especially ones like A.J., whom he described as developmentally delayed. He displayed the behavior of a typical 4-and-a-half year old child, Ceci said of the then 6-year-old boy. But there were unexplained bruises found on Adrianna’s forehead, corroborating A.J.’s consistent portrayal of how Lewis drowned Adrianna.
However, Lewis’ lawyer insisted it was possible that someone had gotten to A.J. and placed a story into his head. Some of Lewis’ family members and Lewis herself are convinced that’s exactly what happened. Their suspicion centers on Charles Burns, A.J.’s step-grandfather. Burns arrived at the scene of the drowning 30 minutes after it happened. A.J., who called him “Pa Chuck,” made a beeline for him. Burns spent 15 minutes alone with A.J., driving him to his home. Lewis’ mother, Brenda Burns, was married to Burns at the time. They are now divorced. Brenda Burns said she wouldn’t be surprised if her ex-husband had coached A.J. “He just really wasn’t very fond of Amanda,” she said. Charles Burns insisted that he didn’t coach A.J., although conceding that he didn’t like Lewis. He said he didn’t like the way his stepdaughter treated her children. “She wasn’t a good mother. They were hungry all — a lot. It might be dark before they’d ever eat.”
The trial marked the first time A.J. had seen his mother in six months. He didn’t recognize her at first. Once he did, he broke down crying. So did Lewis. “I kept asking my attorney to please stop,” she told her lawyer.
Once A.J. regained his composure, he pointed the finger directly at his mother. He explained a drawing he had made of the crime scene showing his mother, he said, “killing my sister.” A jury reached the unanimous verdict after two hours of deliberations. Lewis broke down after a jury found her guilty of first degree murder and aggravated child abuse. “She intended to punish her, maliciously punish her, but in this case she went too far,” Basford said in closing arguments. Lewis was sentenced to life without parole.
There is never a truly happy ending when a child has been murdered. In Lewis’ case she may have murdered two children. The only comfort anyone can take away from this case is that Lewis is behind bars and incapable of killing anymore children. That is definitely a plus for A.J.