New evidence could delay Tony Lewis' murder trial

Thursday, January 12, 2012 | 5:53 p.m. CST; updated 8:56 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 12, 2012

A previous version of this article misspelled nurse Haley Saalborn's last name.

COLUMBIA — The lawyer for an eighth defendant in the 2010 shooting death of Aaron Hobson is arguing that Columbia police and the Boone County prosecutor's office withheld evidence of a gun found near the crime scene months after the shooting.

Attorney Jennifer Bukowsky is representing Tony Lewis, one of eight people charged in connection with Hobson's death, which occurred on Oct. 23, 2010, at the Break Time convenience store at 110 E. Nifong Blvd.

Lewis faces charges of second-degree robbery and second-degree murder and is scheduled to stand trial beginning Jan. 30. He appeared in court during the pretrial hearing, handcuffed at his hands and restrained at his feet and wearing a black-and-white Boone County Jail jumpsuit.

The other seven defendants have already either pleaded guilty or been convicted of crimes related to the shooting. The gun in question was not offered as evidence in any of those cases.

Bukowsky said in a motion filed Jan. 3 that "there were indications on the Breaktime surveillance video and from witness statements that Aaron Hobson's friends may have fired shots at the Breaktime prior to co-defendant Daron Peal firing shots."

Peal has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and is serving a 45-year prison sentence.

Bukowsky tried to make her case about the withholding of evidence during a Wednesday hearing, and her motion asked Judge Gary Oxenhandler to order Boone County Prosecutor Dan Knight to show cause for why information about the gun was withheld. Oxenhandler, however, denied the motion, saying Bukowsky had failed to offer any evidence to support her claim.

The gun at issue is a .22-caliber pistol that was found by a nurse outside Providence Urgent Care, 202 E. Nifong Boulevard, on April 2, more than five months after Hobson was killed at the Break Time, which is about 300 feet west of the clinic.

*The nurse, Haley Saalborn, testified Wednesday that she found the gun wrapped in a white washcloth and buried in mulch outside the clinic. Saalborn alerted her fellow employees, who called police while she stood watch over the weapon. 

Saalborn recalled that she and her co-workers talked about the possibility that the gun might be connected in some way to Hobson's death. She said she mentioned that theory to police officer Wendy Stokes when she came to retrieve the weapon.

Stokes filed a report stating that the gun was a .22 caliber Beretta 21A pistol with six bullets in its magazine. She reported taking DNA swabs from the gun and indicated she would send it to the Missouri State Highway Patrol for DNA testing and alert the department's Major Crimes Unit to see if there were pending cases involving a .22 caliber weapon.

Neither police nor the prosecutor's office tied the gun to Hobson's murder. In fact, Knight said he didn't even know the gun existed until Bukowsky brought it to his attention in court on Dec. 20, nine months after it was found.

The Major Crimes Unit didn't link the gun to the Hobson case because the caliber didn't match any of the bullets or casings found at the scene of the Hobson shooting. Police recovered two shell casings and one bullet from the Break Time parking lot, as well as one bullet from Hobson’s body. Doug Parsons, an investigator for the prosecutor's office, testified that all of those came from a 9mm handgun. That gun was linked to Peal.

The pistol will be sent to the highway patrol for DNA testing and fingerprinting, but just how long that will take is unclear. Oxenhandler made it clear that he hopes the patrol will process the weapon quickly and in time to allow the trial to happen as scheduled. But he left open the possibility that the trial could be postponed. 

"I want to give Mr. Lewis his fair trial the first time around," Oxenhandler said.

Bukowsky also is alleging that police and the prosecutor's office are trying to cover up a possible connection between the Hobson shooting and a large gathering that occurred outside the Peachtree Catering and Banquet Center on the same night. The Peachtree center is immediately east of the Break Time where Hobson was killed.

Lewis is one of eight codefendants charged in connection with the Oct. 23, 2010, shooting of Aaron Hobson in the parking lot of Break Time on Nifong Boulevard.  Seven of those defendants have been found guilty of crimes relating to Hobson’s murder.

Daron Martinez Peal: Pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed criminal action. Serving 45 years. Currently at Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron.

Darris Arlando Peal: Convicted of second-degree murder. Serving 25 years. Currently at Fulton Reception & Diagnostic Center.

Leo Demarcus Roland: Pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery and armed criminal action. Serving 25 years. Currently at South Central Correctional Center in Licking.

Lee Wyatt Carter: Pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery and armed criminal action. Serving 15 years. Currently at Fulton Reception & Diagnostic Center.

Patrick Rashod Marshall: Pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery and armed criminal action. Serving 15 years. Currently at Fulton Reception & Diagnostic Center.

Anthony Jamel Carr: Pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery. Serving 10 years. Currently at Fulton Reception & Diagnostic Center.

Deshon Joseph Houston: Pleaded guilty to second-degree robbery. He is scheduled for sentencing in February.

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