A parole violator from Newton was sentenced Friday to 158 years in prison for the execution-style murders of Lawrence residents Pete Wallace and Wyona Chandlee.
Chandlee and Wallace, both 71, were found dead July 11 in their house at 1520 Learnard Ave. Both had been killed the previous day with double gunshots to the head.
Douglas County District Judge Michael Malone sentenced Damien C. Lewis, 22, to two 50-year sentences without the possibility of parole for the murders. Malone also imposed maximum sentences on a list of charges that included burglary, robbery and illegal possession of a firearm, adding 58 years to the sentence.
Malone stipulated that each sentence was to be served consecutively.
"Technically, the sentence is for more than 158 years," said David Zabel, assistant district attorney. "Because if Mr. Lewis manages to live another 158 years that's not when he'd get out; it's when he'll be eligible for parole."
Kansas prison records show Lewis was ordered to serve the second-longest sentence of any prisoner in state custody. The longest sentence, 180 years, is being served by Arnold Leroy Ruebke, 37. He was convicted in 1984 for the Reno County shotgun slayings of 2-year-old twins and their 18-year-old baby sitter.
Malone's decision followed more than 90 minutes of emotional testimony from 14 of Wallace and Chandlee's relatives:
- Tyson Goos, Chandlee's grandson, mourned that his children "will never get the joy of seeing their great-grandma sitting in a lawn chair at the Little League game. And they'll never get to hear her tell the umpire that he's blind and then see her offer him her glasses," or play card games with her, or race tricycles in her back yard.
Goos added, "They will never know (Chandlee) because of this murderer."
Goos didn't mention Lewis by name because to do so, he said, would show him respect.
"I refuse to do that," he said.
- Judy Bowen, Wallace's daughter, said she still had nightmares about the final seconds of life for her father and Chandlee.
"The day I found out that you executed them on their knees," she said, referring to Lewis, who was seated about 10 feet to her left, "was the day I learned to hate. How could you do that?"
- Kathy Brown, Chandlee's daughter-in-law, made eye contact with Lewis and said, "The pain you caused our family is as great today as it was that very first day."
Lewis, dressed in a red, jail-issue jumpsuit, often appeared bored, staring at the ceiling.
Several times, family members objected to the plea bargain that allowed Lewis to avoid the death penalty.
"An eye for an eye should still be the law," said Vicki Robertson, a former daughter-in-law of Chandlee's.
No death penalty
Douglas County Dist. Atty. Christine Kenney said the plea agreement offered by Lewis' attorneys was too good to turn down.
"I know it was disappointing for a number of family members that we did not pursue the death penalty," Kenney said. "Their feelings were certainly considered in the decision on how to resolve this case. However, I felt that it was my obligation to do what was in the best interest of not just the victims and family members, but for this community as a whole."
Kenney said the plea agreement was ironclad and ensured that Lewis would spend the rest of his life behind bars. A death penalty trial might not have produced any stronger sentence for the killer, Kenney said.
But, she said, "our evidence was strong enough, that if the plea offer had been any less than what it was, I would have had no difficulty in taking this case to a jury."
Kenney said reports that a capital murder trial likely would cost Douglas County taxpayers more than $1 million in legal bills did not play in accepting the plea.
"Out of all the factors that went into my decision, that wasn't one of them," she said.
Under Kansas law, prosecutors may seek the death penalty in cases involving kidnapping for ransom, contract murder, murder of a police officer, murder committed during or after a sex crime, or multiple murders committed during a single crime.
Lewis was eligible for the death penalty because his case involved killing two people during a single crime.
Bowen said family members respectfully disagreed with Kenney's decision.
"My father and I had talked about the death penalty," Bowen said. "He supported it."
Before the sentencing, Kenney played a 16-minute video of Lewis confessing to breaking into Wallace and Chandlee's house and shooting them when they returned home unexpectedly.
Asked by Lawrence Detective M.T. Brown why he shot Wallace and Chandlee, Lewis replied: "I ain't got no good reason."
He later said he killed the couple because he feared getting caught and having to spend an upcoming birthday in prison. His birthday is July 13.
Lewis was heard telling Brown he'd spent enough birthdays in prison.
Originally from Newton, Lewis already had a criminal record.
In 1997, he was charged with stealing a handgun and 86 compact discs during a burglary in Newton. Under an agreement with prosecutors, he later pleaded guilty to charges of burglary and criminal possession of a firearm in exchange for a sentence of 36 months' probation, beginning in March 1997.
Though he was 16 at the time, he was charged and sentenced as an adult.
Lewis apparently followed the conditions of his probation until Jan. 15, 1998, when authorities were called to his home, where, according to police reports, Lewis had drawn a steak knife on his mother during an argument about his frequent telephone use.
Lewis pleaded no contest to a charge of aggravated assault. He was sentenced in July 1998 to 56 months for the crime and for violating probation on the previous two charges.
Prison records show Lewis was a less-than-ideal inmate. While at Hutchinson Correctional Facility, he was disciplined seven times in two and a half years.
Each incident drug use, misconduct in the dining hall and poor work performance resulted in Lewis either spending time in a punitive unit or forfeiting "good time."
Lewis was released on parole in December 2001. He again violated conditions of his parole and in March 2002 was returned to prison, spending time in state correctional facilities in El Dorado and Lansing.
According to Department of Corrections records, Lewis was released on parole April 26, 2002, a Friday, from the Lansing facility.
Lewis was released with the understanding that he would board a bus for Hutchinson and report to his parole officer. Instead, he got off the bus in Lawrence, probably the same day of his release.
In his confession, Lewis said he rang Wallace and Chandlee's front doorbell and knocked on the back door. When no one answered, he said he kicked open a door near the garage.
Once inside, Lewis said he found a .22-caliber pistol and several rounds of ammunition in the master bedroom. He also pried the door off a small safe, finding some $2 bills and a small collection of coins that included silver dollars.
When Wallace and Chandlee entered the house, Lewis said he ordered them to get down on their knees, be quiet and give him their money.
Lewis said Chandlee opened her wallet and handed him $150, after which Lewis shot the woman in the head.
Lewis said Wallace also fell and made noises like he was having a heart attack. Lewis shot him, too.
Lewis found $2 in Wallace's wallet.
Assuming Wallace and Chandlee were dead, Lewis ransacked the home. Before leaving, he shot Wallace and Chandlee again to make sure they were dead.
Lewis was arrested July 16 after a Lawrence man, Norris Hunter, told police he and a friend had been robbed at gunpoint by Lewis and an accomplice.
The accomplice, Malcolm Glover, testified at Lewis' preliminary hearing that he thought he and Lewis were meeting Hunter to "put some money together to score some weed" when Lewis put a pistol to the back of Hunter's head and demanded all his money.
Later that night, Hunter took police to Lewis' girlfriend's apartment, where Lewis was arrested. Items belonging to Wallace and Chandlee later were found among Lewis' possessions.
'I hate you'
Wallace's oldest daughter, Debbie Aguilar, did not testify Friday.
"I was going to," she said, "but when it came time to go up there I didn't because the way my temper is, I would have grabbed (Lewis). I know I would have."
Still, Aguilar had her say. "When they were walking him out of the courtroom, I looked right at him and I said 'I hate you.' Said it three times, and he turned around and looked at me we made eye contact and he gave me one of those looks like, you know, 'big deal.'"
A few years ago, Wallace moved from his home in Wyandotte County to live with Chandlee at the house on Learnard Avenue.
Both were previously married, and they and their late spouses often had gone camping together.
Wallace, a longtime member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Kansas City, Kan., was elected president of the Lawrence lodge a few weeks before he was killed.