Life After Death

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Lewis never wanted that hearing, not because he wanted to stay on Death Row, but because he didn't want to relive those memories. He had stopped having those dreams. Enough already. Maybe they should have killed him. Woulda been easier to take.

"I tried to ignore a lot of things and not think about the abuse," he says now. "I can't change it, and I don't want to think about it. I didn't want to go down that path again, but Richard was trying to save my life, so I was willing to go through it. Sitting in the courtroom for that hearing was a struggle, but necessary. I prepared myself for it. I wasn't sad for myself. I was sad for my family, having to go through it again."

That was the last time Andre Lewis saw his family--the last time they had a chance to hug him, to tell him they loved him. What saved Lewis ultimately destroyed a family. Before the hearing, Aunt Ruth says, Lewis would write all the time. Afterward, they didn't hear from him at all, not even when the 5th Circuit Court vacated his death sentence on December 23 of last year.

"You don't like to tell stories about kids' parents with them right there," Ruth Sims says. "It was like we were ganging up on him. But we lived this, too. Every time you start to talk you'd break down, because you'd bring it up from memory. I told them we didn't have no reason to lie. Those kids went through hell. We can't change that. That's what happened. But after the hearing he would never write."

His grandmother Lula Mae Berry says she didn't even know Lewis had been taken off Death Row and that he was now in Wichita Falls. His sister Lisa says she, too, had no idea. "My grandmother always said the truth will set you free, and we told the truth," she says of that November 2001 hearing. "I guess Andre didn't like that."

From the moment he took the case, Ellis believed that Lewis deserved the fair trial he never received in Dallas County, deserved to be considered as more than a figure on a videotape doing a bad thing to a good kid. Had Ellis lost this case, and this client, he says he would have quit practicing law.

"I witnessed two executions of two of my clients, and I couldn't have gone through that again," he says. "It's too draining. It's awful. You can't imagine what it's like to see someone you know and like as a friend sit there on a gurney and be killed. It's an awful thing. I still remember...a lot...about the first ones I saw." His voice cracks. "It was very hard. I was ready to give it up. I was not going to continue had he been executed. I don't even like to talk about it. It's just too, too traumatic. Getting Andre off Death Row did give me hope in the sense that I am still doing it. And I hope maybe it will give other people hope."

The Dallas County District Attorney's Office could have tried Lewis again, but the district attorney concluded it wasn't worth the cost and time, and in May Lewis was given life in prison, with the possibility of parole. He has been a model prisoner. Maybe he will get out one day. Maybe he'll do something with his life after all, now that he has one at long last.

"Today it ain't even fully hit me yet," Lewis says, smiling for the first time at the end of an hour-long interview. "I realize I am off Death Row and what's expected of me and what I have to do. I know I came within 24 hours of being executed, and now I have a life. It's strange. Guys say, 'You're lucky,' and maybe I am. For so long I prepared myself to die. Now I have to prepare myself how to live."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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