Man alleges that murder suspect revealed telling details about wife’s death

Published 7:05 am Saturday, February 9, 2019

ST. JOSEPH — While his statements drew scrutiny from defense attorneys, a man who testified in court Friday said John Benton Lewis confessed to him details from the night his wife Carla Lewis was fatally shot.

Herbert McGraw alleged the information during the fourth date of John’s trail at the Berrien County Courthouse in St. Joseph. John is charged with premeditated murder following the death of his wife Carla Jean Lewis, who was fatally shot in their Niles Township home on Aug. 13, 2017.

While John told police that Carla was shot when two unknown assailants broke into their home while they were in the basement marijuana grow room and fired at them, McGraw said on April 3, 2018, John told him that John tried to the crime “make it look like a robbery.”

“He said there was money in a safe that he took out,” McGraw said.

McGraw is currently serving a year in Cass County jail. He testified in a green jumpsuit, and his hands remained cuffed. Before his Cass sentence, he served time in a Berrien County institution for a civil crime, he said. When the conversation occurred, McGraw said that he and John had been chatting casually in a common room. McGraw also testified that Lewis told him that April King, a woman he had been having an affair with the summer of Carla’s death, ended up being an informant for the police and gave them information about the events leading up to Carla’s death.

“He said ‘April might not be around to testify’ or something like that,” McGraw told the court. “He was trying to make it sound like something bad was going to happen to her.”

McGraw said he became worried about protecting some family who is connected to King and a partner she was with.

“It was more of a safety concern, so that’s why I came forward,” McGraw said.

McGraw said he wrote what John had told him on a slip of paper and shared it with a deputy.

Defense attorney Ryan Seale questioned why John would suddenly strike up a conversation with him out of all the other people in the room and share the information. In response, McGraw said he was not sure and that he and John had just started talking.

Seale also questioned whether McGraw had tried to strike a bargain with a detective and get out of participating in an undercover drug operation in exchange for testimony.

McGraw testified under oath that he had not been promised anything for testifying. He also said he did not know John before the conversation and that he and King had spoken only twice. He said the last time he talked with King was roughly in 2016.

Others who testified Friday illustrated the events leading up to Aug. 13.

In the summer of 2017 when John opened his Sevenleaves Compassion Club, he also began juggling affairs with multiple women. Two women, who testified Friday, said that they had been having sexual relationships with John.

King was among those to testify Friday. She said she had known John for about six years and that she used to get marijuana from him. In their Facebook correspondence from July 25, 2017, Lewis had professed his love for King. He also wrote: “getting myself single is at the top of the list.”

Carla Donoho also testified that she and John had a romantic relationship. She said that she had been friends with John on Facebook and they ended up running into each other outside of John’s Sevenleaves Compassion Club in Belle Plaza in the summer of 2017. John had offered to help her get information about medicinal marijuana to support one of her children with health issues.

Seale asked whether Lewis had helped her find treatment for her child. Donoho said he had helped her to find resources and that they talked in depth about medical marijuana.

Another man, Roy Gragg, said John had helped him get access to marijuana oil capsules to provide to Gragg’s brother who was sick with cancer.

Others who testified Friday included Detective Lt. Rick Krueger, of the Niles Police Department. Krueger discussed collecting ammunition and a magazine from Justin Hicks, who also testified Thursday that John asked him to pick up the items from Sevenleaves.

Hicks testified Thursday about picking the ammunition and magazine up and turning it over to police. Hicks owns a gun, which was evaluated by the crime lab. Both Krueger and Hicks verified that the weapon, which used brass bullets – not steel like the ones found at the crime scene, was not suspicious to police. The gun was returned to Hicks.

Andrew Betts also resumed testimony he had started Thursday. He described re-painting John’s car after it had been keyed.

Justin Perry also testified and said he helped out by volunteering at John’s compassion club. Perry said he is a medical marijuana card holder and that John sometimes gave him marijuana.

The jury will hear further testimony next week starting Tuesday.