Court council reschedules murder trial for Feb. 5

ST. JOSEPH — The defendant accused of murdering a Niles Township woman in 2017 will have to wait until next year to stand trial.

John Benton Lewis was charged with first-degree pre-meditated murder last year, following the death of his wife, Carla Jean Lewis.

John appeared for a status conference before presiding Judge Gordon Hosbein Monday morning at the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph. John was initially expected to go to trial next week, but Hosbein decided to adjourn the trial based on the health status of defense attorney Edwin Johnson. Hosbein scheduled the two-week jury trial to begin at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 5.

Johnson replaced Chief Public Defender Carl Macpherson, who up until recently had represented John throughout the case. Macpherson left his role to take a job leading the Metropolitan Public Defender Office in Portland, Oregon.

On Monday, Assistant Public Defender Ryan Seale said Johnson recently had a surgery and that there have been some “hiccups in the recovery” process. Seale said Johnson had requested an adjournment.

It has been more than a year since Lewis was charged. Lewis’ jury trial has been rescheduled a number of times. Originally, he was scheduled to go to trial in May 2017. Court council cited the need to have more time to process discovery, leading to several adjournments.

Hosbein said that Lewis has the right to a speedy trial, but that Johnson’s health status was key to a fair trial.

“This is a very complex case,” Hosbein said. “It is going to be a lengthy trial. To try this case, it would be unfair to you [Lewis]. It would be unfair to the system. For your sake and the sake of the case, I want to have this done right.”

Hosbein gave Lewis a chance to speak and express any concerns he might have to a further delayed trail. Lewis chose to speak through Seale, who asked the judge if the trial could at least happen earlier than February.

Hosbein said that court council had reviewed their schedules “ad nauseam” and that February was the earliest the trial could be scheduled.

The incident leading to Lewis’ arrest occurred on Aug. 13, 2017, when police responded to a shooting at 1429 Lawndale Ave., in Niles Township, where the couple had been living. Carla was found deceased in a marijuana grow room. Lewis was found uninjured near Carla’s body. He told police that his home was broken into by two assailants, who shot at his wife and stole her car.

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