COLUMBIA — When the jury came back with a not guilty verdict for Tony Lewis, quiet sobbing was audible in the otherwise silent courtroom. Lewis hugged his defense team, turned and smiled at his family. Lewis, who spent the last 15 months in jail, was a free man.
Lewis was acquitted of charges of second-degree murder and second-degree robbery that stemmed from the 2010 shooting death of Aaron Hobson.
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 Feb. 13.
Hobson was brutally beaten, robbed and shot in the parking lot of the Break Time gas station, 110 E. Nifong Blvd., just after 1:15 a.m. on Oct. 23, 2010.
The jury took about five hours to return the not guilty verdict. While the jury deliberated, Lewis’ two young sons, ages 4 and 5, ran and played in the marble-lined halls of the Boone County Courthouse, largely unaware of the magnitude of the situation that their father was facing.
Oct. 23, 2010
Aaron Hobson, 22, and five friends traveled from their homes near Kansas City, Kan., to Columbia on Oct. 22, 2010. They came to watch Hobson’s cousin, Trey Hobson, who at the time was an Missouri defensive back, play in the Homecoming game against the University of Oklahoma.
That night, the group of six friends, Aaron Hobson, Dexter Faulk, Jamil Benjamin, Sir Paul Jones, Donquavious Hill and Floyd Morgan, decided to see what Columbia’s party scene was like and headed to a party at the Peachtree Catering & Banquet Center.
Inside the club, everything was “cool, calm and collected,” Faulk said. The group danced and drank and chatted with girls. Hobson was flashing money around the club. A photo taken there shows him with a large stack of bills in one hand and a drink in the other.
After a large gathering in the parking lot became unruly, the party was shut down and security guards began to clear the parking lot.
Hobson drove away from the Peachtree center with Floyd Morgan in the passenger seat of his Black Chevrolet Monte Carlo with Lamborghini-style doors. Morgan captured cellphone video of the two driving with both wing doors up and open, flashing large wads of money to people they passed by.
When they arrived at the Break Time gas station, surveillance video showed the car driving in slow circles. Morgan testified that Hobson had stacks of money in his lap at that time.
Minutes later Hobson was rushed by a group of individuals and pulled from his car. He was beaten and held at gunpoint before shots rang out and people scrambled from the crowded parking lot.
Hobson was shot once in the chest before driving his car into a nearby embankment. He died shortly after as a result of his injuries.
After a lengthy investigation, eight men were taken into custody and charged with felony murder. The felony murder rule stipulates that if someone is murdered during the commission of a felony, all of the members of the group committing that felony can be charged with murder, whether they physically caused harm or not.
Lewis is the last of the eight men to be tried. Previously, Leo Roland, Lee Carter, Patrick Marshall, Anthony Carr and Deshon Houston pleaded guilty to lesser charges. Daron Peal, whom witnesses said they believed was the gunman, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed criminal action and received a 45-year prison sentence. His brother Darris Peal was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Lewis was arrested the day of Hobson’s murder and charged with second-degree murder and second-degree robbery. His trial, which began Monday, ended when Circuit Judge Gary Oxenhandler read the not guilty verdict Saturday afternoon.
Lewis can be seen on surveillance video from Break Time running around to the passenger side of Hobson’s car and bending down, right as the fatal shot was fired. Boone County Chief Prosecutor Dan Knight suggested during witness testimony that Lewis might have been picking up money.
Morgan, Faulk, Hill and Jones were called as witnesses for the prosecution. All four of the men could not positively identify Lewis as being involved in the incident. Carter, Carr and Daron Peal were called as witnesses for the defense.
“I thought it was gonna be a fight,” Carter said. Carter can be seen on surveillance video starting to walk away from the scrum but then turning around and joining the action. Carter testified that he had no idea that anyone in the group had a gun or planned to shoot Hobson and that he never thought there was going to be a robbery.
When asked who was involved in the physical attack of Hobson, Daron Peal said that he, Darris Peal, Carter, Marshall and Houston were the only ones who touched Hobson. The defendants said they did not know Lewis prior to the incident.
This along with other testimony and evidence convinced the Platte County jury that the prosecution had not proved that Lewis was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Reactions to the verdict
Defense Attorney Jennifer Bukowsky said she felt a sense of relief when the not guilty verdict came back Saturday.
“I am really relieved that he had the courage to go to trial and that the justice system worked,” Bukowsky said.
Bukowsky also decried the way that Knight handled the prosecution of these cases. She said the prosecutor's office and detectives did not look at what actually happened during the incident. She thought they used "broad doctrines of accomplice liability and felony murder to bully people."
Members of the Lewis family wept when Tony Lewis' not guilty verdict was returned, but Al Hobson, Aaron Hobson's grandfather, spoke with an even tone.
“Personally I felt he was guilty, but I’m not the panel, I’m not the jury, so we have to accept what we are confronted with,” he said. “The system found the eighth man innocent; I wasn’t there. If we believe in the Constitution, then we have got to believe in the results.”