A D.C. Superior Court judge Friday said he had “great concerns” about the mental health of a Southeast man charged with intentionally setting a fire in his own home last month that led to the death of a 4-year-old girl.
Judge John Ramsey Johnson ordered Jerome Calvary Lewis, 46, to remain in D.C. jail until trial. Lewis was charged with second-degree murder after he allegedly set fire to his home on Feb. 17, in the 2600 block of 33rd Street SE. He is charged in the death of Samauri Jenkins, who was found unconscious in a second-floor bedroom and died two days later of burns and smoke inhalation. Six other people in the house escaped.
During the hearing, D.C. homicide detective John Johnson said Lewis lived in the basement and rented out the top part of his house, but in the days leading up to the fire, he and his tenants had a series of disagreements.
Johnson testified that one unidentified witness who lived in the house told police Lewis was mentally ill and “hears voices.” In charging documents, detectives wrote that when police arrived at the scene, the house was engulfed in flames. Lewis climbed on the porch roof, broke a window and yelled: “I live here. I’m not coming down. I’m not crazy.”
Lewis told authorities that he accidentally dropped a lit cigarette on his mattress in the basement and tried to remove the mattress from the house. But Lewis had no sign of burns on his hands, Johnson testified. One tenant said Lewis never warned them of the fire or smoke, nor did he help anyone out of the house.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Jackson said Lewis told witnesses earlier this year that he would “make this house disappear, piece by piece.” Making the house disappear, Jackson told the judge, “was what he tried to do.”
Jackson also argued that Lewis should remain in jail because he recently flew to Ethiopia and Amsterdam and was scheduled to marry a 15-year-old African girl.
Lewis’s attorney, Anthony Matthews, of the District’s Public Defender Service, argued that there was no evidence Lewis intended to set the fire and that it was an accident. Matthews said Lewis tried to break the window to search for victims. Mathews also argued that the District medical examiner’s ruling that Samauri’s death was a homicide includes no detailed findings.