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story.lead_photo.caption Benearl Lewis,

A Texas appellate court affirmed Tuesday the life sentence of a father convicted of murder in the death of his 4-year-old son by a Bowie County jury last year.

Benearl Jermane Lewis Jr., 25, was found guilty in November of felony murder in the March 2018 death of his son, D'Money Lewis. D'Money suffered massive blunt force injuries to his head and body and marks consistent with a severe beating were found as well, according to testimony at trial.

Benearl Lewis was prohibited from being alone with D'Money or his three siblings per a Child Protective Services care plan. But on the morning of March 6, D'Money's mother, Khadijah Wright, 26, went to work and left D'Money and his older brother with Benearl Lewis.

When it became clear late that afternoon that D'Money was gravely injured, Lewis and Wright concocted a story about D'Money falling from a waist-high chest freezer in their Wake Village, Texas, home. Medical experts testified that the account couldn't explain the myriad injuries D'Money was found to have suffered.

At Lewis' trial and at a separate trial for Wright this year, witnesses testified that child welfare officials in Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi had received multiple calls expressing concern for the welfare of the children.

On appeal, Lewis argued that the information about past alleged abuse of his children shouldn't have been heard by the jury and that such testimony made his trial unfair. The 6th District Court of Appeals in Texarkana disagreed, finding that the evidence was sufficient and that the testimony concerning prior allegations of abuse was admissible.

"At trial, the State introduced evidence of multiple outcries of physical abuse in the days leading up to the murder of this child," First Assistant District Attorney Kelley Crisp said. "Lewis complained on appeal that those statements were irrelevant and too prejudicial. Thankfully, the court of appeals found the admission of these outcries proper and appropriate for consideration by the jury, upholding the verdict and sentence. Bowie County is safer with Benearl Lewis serving a well-deserved life sentence."

A Bowie County jury convicted Wright of injury to a child by omission earlier this year and sentenced her to a term of 99 years. At her trial, Crisp and Assistant District Attorney Lauren Richards argued that Wright routinely put her relationship with Benearl Lewis above the safety of her youngsters and that her parenting was marginal if not neglectful.

"The circumstances surrounding D'Money's death were simply horrible and something all involved will never forget," Richards said. "We are all pleased the court of appeals affirmed the conviction and upheld the jury's verdict."

Benearl Lewis is currently being held at the Barry Telford Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. According to the TDCJ website, Benearl Lewis will be eligible for parole March 9, 2048.

llarowe@texarkanagazette.com

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