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Man convicted of first-degree murder in killing of Alexandria activist Lenny Harris

Tyrone Lewis (Courtesy of Prince George's County Police)

When three kidnappers tossed Lenny Harris in a car two years ago, they thought they had seized a wealthy man. But the well-known Alexandria activist was carrying only $50.

After one of the frustrated captors took off the ski mask that hid his face, Harris recognized him, according to trial testimony, and asked: “Why’s it got to be like this, man? . . . It doesn’t have to be this way.”

Harris pleaded for his life as he was driven to an abandoned home in Prince George’s County, where, according to testimony, he was shot in the head and thrown down a well.

On Tuesday, Tyrone Lewis, 28, was found guilty of first-degree murder, becoming the third man convicted in connection with Harris’s kidnapping and death.

Before he disappeared in September 2011, Harris, 53, a resident of the Del Ray neighborhood, was last seen at the Charles Houston Recreation Center in Alexandria. His body was found three months later in Fort Washington after an anonymous tip.

Harris was a regular at city recreation centers, where he led children in outdoor activities and helped them find tutors. For 25 years, he was a popular civic activist in Alexandria, attending meetings and serving on committees. He co-founded Operation HOPE, a nonprofit focused on the mentoring and career development of young people.

After the verdict was announced, Harris’s wife, Deborah, said she wanted to thank the jurors. She said she also felt for Lewis’s relatives, who reacted to the verdict with pain and anger. Bernard and A.J. Lewis, the defendant’s 17- and 19-year-old brothers, were taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies as they stormed out of the Prince George’s County courtroom.

“We both lost somebody,” Deborah Harris said.

Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille (D), who knew Lenny Harris for decades, said the convictions brought some relief.

“At least those who were involved in his abduction and subsequent murder now will face the punishment that they deserve,” Euille said. “All the links to Lenny’s tragic death have been identified. This is the final resolution.”

More than a dozen of Lenny Harris’s relatives gathered for the five-day trial, some wearing bracelets bearing his name and the phrase “I Love.”

During the trial, jurors learned that Harris’s body was identified by the name on his T-shirt and on the placard that hung from his neck. Both were inscribed with “Mycha,” the name of a T-shirt company he founded to teach his daughter, Myia Charde Harris, about entre­pre­neur­ship. It was that business, prosecutors said, that led Lewis to think that Harris had money.

Another defendant in the killing, Linwood Johnson, testified last week that Lewis, who had bought shirts from Harris, decided to rob the man because he wanted cash to bail a friend out of jail.

Lewis lured Harris to a meeting place in Alexandria on the pretext of buying shirts, Johnson testified. After Harris arrived, Lewis, Johnson and a third man, Ivan Newman, all wearing ski masks and gloves, seized him, bound him with duct tape and threw him in the back of a car, Johnson said.

Harris, who also ran a pest-control business, put more into his enterprises than he made from them, his wife told The Washington Post last year. The money he did have, she said, he usually spent on an annual community unity festival.

When Lewis realized that his victim had little money and had seen his face, “the plan evolved,” a prosecutor told the jury during closing arguments Monday.

In testimony last week, Johnson said, Lewis had declared that they should take Harris to “a landfill” and had Johnson — Newman was getting rid of Harris’s car — drive to an abandoned house near Lewis’s grandmother’s home.

As he was pulled out of the car, Johnson testified, Harris pleaded for his life and offered whatever money he could give, and Lewis asked Harris for his bank card pin number. Johnson testified that he and Lewis argued over what to do next and that Lewis considered calling Harris’s wife to see whether she might be a more lucrative target.

That was “way too far,” Johnson testified he told Lewis. “It’s too far already.” With an expletive, Johnson said, Lewis shot Harris in the back of the head.

Lewis’s defense centered on the lack of DNA evidence tying him to the crime. The shotgun, ski masks and gloves recovered from Johnson’s car did not yield any link to Lewis. Johnson was probably placing blame on Lewis to make himself look better, defense attorney Harry Trainor argued. “He’s pulling the wool over our eyes,” Trainor said.

Prosecutors emphasized that most of the evidence was found months after Harris’s death, making it hard to recover DNA. Tattoos on Lewis — including “Get Money” embellished with flames and “Get Rich or Die Trying” with a gun — were used by prosecutors to link him to security camera images of a man using Harris’s bank card.

Lewis also was convicted of robbery, kidnapping and related charges.

Johnson, 51, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed robbery. Newman, 21, pleaded guilty to robbery with a dangerous weapon and related charges. Both are scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 24. Lewis is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 1.

Police said they have linked Lewis to two other killings, both during armed robberies.

Lewis’s mother, Felecia Lewis, said she continues to believe that her son is innocent. Trainor said he will file an appeal.

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.


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