Detective: Suspect in cyclist case went to VegasJoseph Alan Lewis, right, speaks with his attorney Overton Thierry, left, during an Aug. 1, 2014 preliminary hearing. File photo by Dan Whisenhunt
A Fulton County Superior Judge on Friday, Aug. 1, found enough evidence to move forward with the case against a man accused of running down a cyclist with his SUV.
The ruling came after a nearly-two hour probable cause hearing for Joseph Alan Lewis, 19. Lewis is accused of intentionally using his red Dodge Nitro to run over Greg Germani on June 9. The incident occurred on Flagler Avenue in Atlanta’s Piedmont Heights community. Lewis faces multiple charges, including attempt to commit murder.
During the hearing, an Atlanta Police detective testified that Lewis flew to Las Vegas days after incident and abandoned his Midtown apartment before investigators executed a search warrant of the premises. The detective also claimed that Lewis offered to confess if police officers would drop the charges against his girlfriend, Shanelle Woodard, who is accused of helping him cover up the crime.
Germani is at the Shepherd Center continuing his recovery from a brain injury caused by the incident. During testimony on Aug. 1, Atlanta Police Detective Zachary Kramer said Germani wasn’t expected to live when he arrived at Grady Hospital.
Kramer hasn’t been able to interview Germani due to his condition.
“It’s the general consensus he will be disabled for the rest of his life,” Kramer said.
Prosecutors detailed what they believe to be a strong circumstantial case against Lewis. Lewis’ public defender, Overton Thierry, argued that no one had been able to prove anything to a certainty beyond proving his client owns the Dodge Nitro used in the attack.
“There’s no proof my client was driving the vehicle at the time of the alleged incident,” Thierry said.
The prosecutor interviewed Kramer for about an hour, asking him to walk him through the investigation. Kramer said that police focused on Lewis after a tipster contacted them about a red Dodge Nitro that was parked in an apartment complex in Midtown. Lewis lived there and police were able to match paint chips found at the scene to the damage on the vehicle, Kramer said.
Investigators began to learn more about Lewis and Kramer described his actions following the June 9 incident.
Kramer said that Lewis is an “aspiring music artist” from Michigan, but he stopped promoting himself over social media. He said Lewis’ friends, including his bodyguard, became concerned by his abrupt change in behavior.
“Records indicate … Mr. Lewis flew to Las Vegas on the fourteenth of June, (several) days after the crime occurred,” Kramer said.
Kramer said that a local State Farm insurance office contacted Lewis’ father in Michigan to discuss damage to the vehicle.
Police seized Lewis’ vehicle on June 23. They also executed a search warrant on Lewis’ apartment, located Gables Midtown, the same complex where they found the Dodge Nitro. The management said Lewis’ no longer lived there.
“The apartment was in disarray,” Kramer said. “All valuable items had been removed. It appeared that whoever was there had left in a hurry.”
Police did find a receipt for the vehicle covers that Lewis allegedly used to conceal the Nitro while it was in the parking deck, Kramer said. That led them to ask for surveillance video from the Walmart on Howell Mill Road. On that video, officers saw a woman, alleged to be Woodard, drive Lewis to the Walmart on June 10 in her Toyota Camry. Woodard allegedly purchased a vehicle cover with cash.
Kramer said when he called Woodard she confirmed she was dating Lewis but declined to talk to officers about the details of the case. Woodard told police she wouldn’t make any statements without her attorney present.
Kramer said the key fob that had been issued to Lewis showed someone had exited the building that same day police executed the warrant, a statement that prompted an objection from Lewis’ attorney.
The detective clarified his statement to say that the record indicated someone had used Lewis’ key fob, but he couldn’t conclusively say it was Lewis who exited the building as detectives were searching his apartment and seizing his Dodge Nitro.
Lewis wanted the Nitro back. Kramer said that Lewis’ visited the Zone 5 precinct at the CNN Center at some point in early July, though he wasn’t sure of the exact day. Kramer wasn’t working at the time. He said it’s his understanding that Lewis dropped by the precinct because he’d heard officers were looking for him.
Lewis asked about the vehicle, and the officers said they were holding onto it. Then they explained why.
“We explained … we knew he was connected to this crime. We tried to get him to understand that his involvement was quite certain, that he is connected to a very serious crime,” Kramer said, recalling the video tape of the interview. “When the questions got more substantive about where he was, what he was doing and why he thought we had his vehicle, it was at that point he said he wouldn’t speak without an attorney.”
Police didn’t arrest him then because they were still in the middle of their investigation. They told Lewis he was free to go.
Woodard arrived at the Zone 2 precinct on July 16 where she was arrested. Kramer said he expected Lewis to turn himself in as well.
“On the sixteenth of July he offered to confess if charges were dropped against his girlfriend,” Kramer said.
Thierry, Lewis’ attorney, pounced on that claim, arguing that there was no recording of the call and questioning whether police could determine conclusively that it was his client who called them. Kramer said he believes police would be able to establish that Lewis made the phone call.
Thierry also challenged other evidence in the case. Kramer said that the sole eyewitness to the actual attack on Germani was unable to pick Lewis out of a six-person photo lineup, narrowing it down to two possibilities, including Lewis. He also showed the eyewitness pictures from the Walmart surveillance video.
The best the witness could do was say the person looked “similar” to the driver he saw on June 9, Kramer said.
Thierry said that wasn’t a good enough reason to charge his client with the crime.
“Kramer figured he would show him a single person photo pictures of my client, instead of showing a permissible photo array, and he was still unable to say, ‘Yes, that’s the guy,'” Thierry said.
Thierry also picked at the physical evidence in the case. Under cross examination, Kramer said that hair found on the Nitro turned out to be animal hair. The blood on the vehicle also hasn’t been positively matched to Germani.
Kramer said GBI analysts concluded that the paint chips found at the scene came from the Dodge Nitro.
Thierry asked that the charges against Lewis be dismissed due to the prosecution’s inability to definitively put him behind the wheel of the Dodge Nitro on June 9.
The judge found there was enough evidence to set a trial date of Aug. 21. There’s been no hearing date set for Woodard.
Germani’s family and friends sat in the second row of the courtroom during the hearing.
John Germani, Greg’s younger brother, and Beth Anne Harrill, Germani’s girlfriend, said they are glad that Lewis will remain in jail for now.
“I think it just relieves a little bit of the burden, knowing that the person who did this to Greg doesn’t have the ability to be out walking around and living his life while Greg is trying to recover,” Harrill said.