Archive for Friday, July 19, 2002

Capital murder charge first in county since Kansas death penalty reinstated

July 19, 2002


A Lawrence man who had been sought for violating parole was charged Thursday in the slayings of an elderly Lawrence couple.

Damien C. Lewis, 22, was charged with capital murder and first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of George "Pete" Wallace and Wyona Chandlee, both 71.

It is the first capital murder case filed in Douglas County since the Kansas Legislature reinstated the death penalty in 1994. If convicted, Lewis could face the death penalty.

He is the only suspect in the double slaying and no other arrests are expected, Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin told a news conference Thursday.

"We believe we have an extremely accurate understanding of the exact way the homicides were conducted," Olin said without providing details.

Lewis, who had been jailed early Wednesday on suspicion of robbery in an unrelated case, was being held Thursday night in the Douglas County Jail on $900,000 bond for allegedly shooting to death Wallace and Chandlee during a July 10 burglary in their home at 1530 Learnard Ave.

In addition to capital murder and first-degree murder, Lewis also was charged with two counts of aggravated robbery, one count of aggravated burglary, burglary and felon in possession of a firearm.

Olin said the break in the investigation came when Lewis, who was arrested with another man in connection with a Tuesday night robbery, was found to be in possession of items allegedly taken from the Wallace and Chandlee home.

Lewis had been sought since April for violating his parole from Hutchinson Correctional Facility, where he had been serving a 56-month sentence for aggravated assault, burglary and criminal possession of a firearm.

Neighbors 'thankful'

News of Lewis' arrest spread quickly Thursday morning among neighbors who live near the scene of the homicides.

"I'm just so thankful they caught the guy, if he's the right one," said Barbara Shivel. "They (Chandlee and Wallace) were such nice people. This is a big relief."

Theotis Smith, whose home was burglarized in May, was sitting outside his home on the porch reading when he heard about the arrest.

"A neighbor came over and said they'd nailed someone," said Smith. "That's great."

Added Reta Banks: "I can sleep better now."

Lewis was arrested early Wednesday in connection with an armed robbery hours earlier in Edgewood Park, near the apartment where he had been living in the 1600 block of Haskell Avenue. Lewis also has been charged in that case, and bond was set at $75,000.

Additionally, Lewis was charged with one count of burglary for a July 8 break-in at a house in the 1900 block of Learnard Avenue. An 81-year-old woman who lives at the residence was away when the burglary took place.

Olin said police thought Lewis could be linked to two other burglaries in the area. Douglas County Dist. Atty. Christine Kenney said other charges could be added after police completed their investigation.

Seeking death penalty?

Despite the capital murder charge, Kenney said she wasn't sure the death penalty would be sought. Her office must make that decision later.

"We went ahead and filed it because we wanted to keep all our options open," she said of the capital murder charge.

The capital murder charge includes the slayings of both Wallace and Chandlee. Kansas law allows such charges to be filed under seven categories of intentional, premeditated murder. One of those categories is the killing of more than one person during the same act.

Lewis is charged in a separate count of first-degree murder in Wallace's death.

A preliminary hearing was scheduled by Judge Michael Malone for 2 p.m. Wednesday. Malone appointed Ronald Evans, a member of the state's capital murder defense team, to represent the suspect. Attorneys on the team working for the state represent all capital murder suspects in Kansas.

Thursday afternoon, Lewis appeared before Malone in a nearly full courtroom. At least two dozen family members and friends of Wallace and Chandlee showed up. So did several law enforcement officers who have worked on the case.

Prior to the hearing, Tyson Goos, Lawrence, a grandson of Chandlee, said relatives of both victims felt tremendous relief and expressed hope the Lawrence community could now rest easier.

"We are thankful for the job done by the Lawrence Police Department," said Goos, 25. "Nothing will bring back our loved ones, but we hope justice will be served and peace restored."

A changed neighborhood

At the Fraternal Order of Eagles Lodge 309, 1803 W. Sixth St., where Wallace was president, members welcomed the news a suspect was behind bars.

Wednesday, the lodge said it would put up a $1,000 reward in hopes it would spur someone to provide a tip leading to an arrest. Now that money may be donated in Wallace's name to a children's ranch with which the Eagles are affiliated, members said.

The slayings of Wallace and Chandlee changed their neighborhood, those who live there said.

"My daughter is still getting me a security system," Shivel said.

Smith said he would continue to be wary of anything unusual in the neighborhood.

"I didn't used to pay any attention when my dog barked because it would just be barking at a cat," he said. "Now I jump and up and look."

Rachel Lemus, who lived next door to Wallace and Chandlee, also plans to be more cautious, despite police having a suspect in custody.

"We're still going to keep our eyes open," she said. "There's crazy people out there."

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