By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The evening of Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016, was not a remarkable one for Andrew Lewis.
The 31-year-old musician was playing a normal gig at the Alley Bar in downtown Montgomery, with his band, Medicine Chest. He stopped by his parents’ house before the show to eat, then, as he had done dozens of times before, headed out to sing his music at a Montgomery bar. Lewis was a staple at Montgomery bars, with essentially standing gigs at 1048, the Alley Bar and others. He was well-known, he was, by all accounts, well-liked.
The first sign that the night would be different came on his Lewis’ way into the bar. As he strolled through the alley, he spotted his former girlfriend, Mary Jehle, seated outside of Central Restaurant with a date, Eli Miller.
Inside Alley Bar, as the band was setting up for the night’s gig, Andrew told his bandmates about Jehle. They didn’t want to hear it.
The ongoing saga of Lewis and Jehle’s relationship had long been a drain on their friends, who had grown tired of the near-constant drama. Recent weeks had been worse than usual, with Andrew being arrested, public fights and a ridiculous back and forth over an apartment key. Andrew wanted it back. Jehle never seemed to have it.
“Why she didn’t just give him the damn key and why he didn’t just change the damn locks, I don’t know,” said one friend. “It’s like they needed that.”
So, when Andrew noticed Mary sitting outside of the restaurant with a date – a coincidence many of Andrew’s friends find to be far less of a coincidence – his friends knew it could mean trouble. They had no idea how much.
The first real interaction of the night came just before Lewis’ band was set to leave the Alley Bar around 2 a.m. According to those who were there, suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere, Miller was on stage, angry and crowding Lewis.
“One second he wasn’t there, the next second he was, and I have no idea why,” said a witness who watched the incident unfold.
On the stage, Andrew’s friends said he was trying to diffuse the situation. They said he had his arms up and outstretched and repeatedly told Miller, “I don’t want no trouble, man. I don’t want no trouble.”
Part of the reason Lewis wanted to avoid violence at that point, Lewis’ friends say, stems from the way he thought of his music gigs – as a profession. He took them seriously and wouldn’t have risked an incident inside a bar that frequently paid him for shows. This devotion to the profession went further, they say, with Lewis even watching his alcohol intake, often turning down free drinks, in order to stay sharp.
But that’s also one side of this story — and admittedly, one that is very biased towards Lewis. It’s a side that Eli Miller’s attorney, Andrew Skier, said he’s heard. I contacted Skier in an attempt to get more information from Miller’s side of this, because it’s a pretty safe bet that Miller’s side isn’t that he’s a hothead who antagonized and provoked Lewis for no reason before shooting him.
Skier elected not to answer questions – for now. However, he didn’t rule it out in the near future, in order to “get Eli’s side out there because he definitely has a story to tell.” Skier also specifically declined to comment on what occurred at Alley Bar, saying he wasn’t “going to get into a he said/she said thing” because it wouldn’t be beneficial to his client.
For now, that leaves no insight from one of the two people involved in the altercation, and the only one of those two who can still tell this story. What’s left comes from a collection of sources, including unattached witnesses who happened to be there, a source close to Miller and friends of Lewis.
Except for the source close to Miller, the rest say the altercation between Miller and Lewis occurred out of nowhere, with no warning, no provocation on Lewis’ part. Contradicting that slightly, the Miller source said Lewis sent a text message to Jehle that night, although the person was unsure what it said. That followed several weeks of messages and other odd exchanges between Jehle and Lewis.
But still, there seems to be no real action taken by Lewis at Alley Bar that prompted the altercation. And to be clear, when I say “altercation,” that shouldn’t be implied to mean “fight.” It wasn’t that, according to the witnesses. It was more of a threat of a fight, interrupted quickly by Lewis’ friends who got between the two.
And it didn’t stop there. Outside of Alley Bar, there was another confrontation, more threats made. Another almost-fight.
At that point, all involved – Lewis, Miller and Jehle – told friends that they were going to the police station to file charges against each other. And all three did.
A source at MPD told me that both parties attempted to file harassment/assault charges against each other, and that they were in the downtown police precinct at the same time. In that situation, the magistrate on duty has to make a determination on whose complaint to accept. That doesn’t necessarily mean that charges won’t be filed against the other party, or against both parties, but some determination was made to accept Jehle/Miller’s complaint instead of Lewis’.
A determining factor in that could have been – and the source said it was “likely” – Lewis’ previous history of arrests related to Jehle. There was no violence, although Jehle did file a restraining order against Lewis in 2012 in which she said she was fearful that he might hurt her and that he once grabbed her arm. The two dated multiple times, including going to a concert together in December 2015, after that restraining order filing.
Lewis was allowed to answer those charges and make his own claim on the complaint, according to the MPD source. As I noted in an earlier section, I, and Advertiser reporter Andrew Yawn, made several attempts to obtain this document. But hiding behind a legal loophole, the city of Montgomery and MPD have refused to provide it.
The filing process at MPD took quite some time, and by the time all three made it out of the precinct and started home, it was nearing 5 a.m. Lewis texted a friend to say he had gone to the police station, as promised, and that he was now headed home.
But he didn’t. Instead, in less than an hour, there would be a car chase, a crash, gunfire, Lewis’ car engulfed in flames and Andrew Lewis, 31, would be dead.