Through tears, Deborah Harris told a judge and a hushed courtroom Friday of the horror she has endured since her husband disappeared two years ago.
“I have lost my husband of 19 years, my best friend, the father of my daughter, my hero, my confidant,” Harris said.
Lenwood “Lenny” Harris, a well-loved community activist in Alexandria, was killed in Prince George’s County during a botched robbery in September 2011.
On Friday morning, his widow asked the Prince George’s judge to give Tyrone Lewis, 28, the maximum sentence in Harris’s murder. “The pain has cut me so deep, I can’t tell if my heart is still beating,” she said. “I feel like I die every night.”
There was no way to demonstrate her agony and the depth of the family’s loss without “pouring blood on this paper,” she said, referring to the statement in her hand.
Circuit Court Judge Sean D. Wallace then sentenced Lewis to life in prison without parole, plus 120 years.
Deborah Harris’s compelling testimony included the revelation that her husband’s death was not the first time she had lost a loved one to gun violence. Her son was shot in the head and killed 17 years ago by a man who thought that he had been “disrespected.”
Lenny Harris’s death was destabilizing in many ways, Harris told the court in Upper Marlboro.
She lost her house; her husband had been behind on payments when he died. She now rents in a neighborhood she struggles to afford, she said, but she chose it “because it’s safe and so far from everyone.”
Her 22-year-old daughter, she said, dropped out of college after Lenny Harris’s disappearance. The daughter is only now thinking of going back to school while struggling with sleeplessness and despair, Harris said. “Her spirit is gone,” she said.
Although she is trying to forgive, Harris said, she believes that Lewis deserves “the full judgment.”
At Lewis’s trial in September, another defendant in the case, Linwood Johnson, testified that he, Lewis and a third man kidnapped Lenny Harris in Alexandria with plans to rob him.
When they found that Harris had only $50, a frustrated Lewis took off his ski mask, Johnson testified, revealing himself to his captive. Lewis and Johnson then took Harris to an abandoned house in Fort Washington, where Lewis shot Harris in the head and dumped his body in a well, Johnson said. The body was not found for three months.
It was a “failure of the criminal justice system” that Lewis was not in prison at the time of Lenny Harris’s murder, Wallace said in pronouncing sentence.
Lewis was on probation for robbery with a deadly weapon when Harris was killed. He has since been charged in two other killings, one from 2005 and one from a few weeks after Harris’s death. Altogether, he has been implicated in 19 criminal cases since 2004.
There was “absolutely . . . a failure of the system” that left Lewis on the streets for so long, Prince George’s State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks told reporters after the hearing. “It shows how much work we still have to do.”
Johnson and the case’s third defendant, Ivan Newman, have not yet been sentenced. Both accepted plea deals in which they agreed to cooperate with investigators.
Harris, 53, was a popular civic activist in Alexandria and a regular at city recreation centers, where he led children in outdoor activities and helped them find tutors. He co-founded Operation HOPE, a nonprofit group focused on the mentoring and career development of young people.
“If anyone knew my brother, they would never harm him,” Harold Harris, one of the slain man’s five siblings, said in court Friday.
The Harris family said they will pray for Lewis’s relatives and even for the man who killed their beloved family member.
“Lenny was a person who loved life, and he wanted everybody to do good,” Harris’s sister Sandra Walton said after the sentencing. “It’s been instilled in us to stick together, to take care of one another, and that’s what we’re going to do.” Every month, the family gets together for dinner, she said, and her brother’s presence is still felt.
Lewis, who did not speak during his trial, on Friday denied any involvement in the killing.
“It’s a surreal situation,” he said. “I’ve lost my life for something that I really didn’t do.” He said his heart went out to Harris’s family, and he described himself as “a citizen of the community who was striving to help people . . . not a predator.”
Lewis’s family has announced plans to appeal the conviction.