By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The final chapter of this sad saga originally had a different ending — one that was, somehow, less depressing. In the months since, however, there has been some activity.
The biggest movement was Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey officially presenting the case to a grand jury. That grand jury declined to indict Eli Miller on any charges — not murder, not manslaughter, nothing. The Lewis family was, of course, devastated.
But they were left with some hope. Chris Lewis, Andrew’s mother, told The Montgomery Advertiser that Bailey expects the case to presented to another grand jury when special ballistic testing is completed. Bailey had originally waited for more than a year to take the case to a grand jury, stalling while his office waited on the state forensics lab to conduct the more thorough tests.
Chris Lewis said the DA’s office informed the family that it was moving forward without those tests in an effort to make some progress for the family’s sake. Instead of progress, though, things seem to have gone in reverse.
But the case is not going to die anytime soon. Earlier this month, a popular podcast — Southern Fried True Crime — took up the case. While host Erica Kelley recapped much of what was in my blog and in the Advertiser’s reporting, she also worked her own sources and talked to several people involved. And a number of new tidbits popped out.
One of the oddest, and most intriguing was this: Kelley said her sources told her that when Miller was taken into custody at the scene of the shooting, he was carrying three firearms. When he left police custody — having never been arrested — later that day, Miller took all three guns, including the gun that killed Lewis, with him. I think I speak for everyone when I say … Uh, do what?
In addition, Kelley said the DA’s office main investigator and point of contact for MPD on murder cases (particularly higher profile death cases) was not called into this case. That’s another odd piece in an already odd handling of a sensitive death investigation. Place it alongside waiting eight hours to notify the Lewis family and asking the family to guess who shot Andrew Lewis.
And as we wrap this up, that gets us into the only way I know how to wrap this up: With questions.
Of all the things that occurred, the fire that engulfed Lewis’ SUV remains the biggest mystery to me. And I think it’s one of the most important questions to answer.
Why did that white Ford Explorer catch fire?
Montgomery Police have provided few details about the fire to the Lewis family. MPD also has said very little about the fire to Miller and his attorney. They have made statements to both that sort of indicate that the car making contact with the power pole was the cause.
But that’s impossible. If Lewis’ car hit that pole, it did so at a low rate of speed and on the passenger side front bumper. There’s almost no chance that the collision with the pole caused a fire.
That said, cars burn all the time, especially older cars. You can see them on the side of the road from time to time. So, it’s possible that after all of the chasing and whatever else went on, Lewis’ car simply caught fire.
But it sure would be nice to know for sure that there was nothing dumped on or in the car to help it burn faster. Or that a bullet didn’t go through the engine block, helping to ignite the blaze.
That would have been a task for the police – a task they’ve told the Lewis family that they didn’t complete. And after taking the car from the scene, they allowed it to sit uncovered for weeks. That has prevented any testing that the DA’s office might want to do.
It all just seems too … convenient. You know?
The Lack of Damage
The story that Miller and Mary Jehle have told police involves Lewis attempting to kill or seriously injure Miller by hitting him with his car. As proof of this, Miller says damage to the rear of his car came from Lewis running into it as he tried to hit Miller.
So, why isn’t the front end of Lewis’ car wrecked?
There are photos of Lewis’ SUV on the Advertiser’s website. If you look at the photo of the burned SUV, you’ll notice that there is very little structural damage to the SUV. It’s hood appears to be in near perfect condition along the front and there are no bent frame bars.
Again, there could be a logical explanation. Maybe the cars didn’t collide with great force. Maybe the Explorer is just a well-built vehicle – it is a Ford, after all.
But it bothers me.
Let me set this up: If you stood on Bell Road just after the accident, as I did, and look down the small embankment to where the crash occurred, you would have seen tire tracks running from your right to the left. Those tracks cut across a small berm and stop just on the other side. At that point, you can see obvious signs of where the vehicle backed up and was turned to the left, towards Bell Road. Tracks show it traveled roughly 15-20 feet and stopped just to the side of a power pole.
OK, keep all of that in mind while you consider this story from Miller and Jehle:
The altercation occurs on Bell. Miller fires into the car. Lewis is hit, the car goes off the road and into the front yard. He is dead or mortally wounded. In a few seconds, Miller is at the car, removing Lewis and dragging him up the hill and onto Bell Road.
Can you make that story fit with the tire tracks? Who turned the car? Who pulled it forward?
Maybe there is a logical explanation. Maybe the tire tracks are misleading. Maybe we’re looking at it all wrong.
Why Was He There?
This question has troubled pretty much everyone, including Lewis’ family and close friends. Why was Lewis waiting for Jehle that morning?
Why was he anywhere near her house?
The last time any of his friends heard from Lewis was around 6 a.m., when he talked with a friend and let him know that he was on his way to his parents’ house to go to sleep. But instead of heading towards his parents’ home in the Vaughn Meadows subdivision, Lewis was instead waiting on Jehle, near her parents’ home on Greystone Way.
Lewis’ friends and family believe he was lured there by Jehle – maybe not to intentionally draw him into a conflict, but that she made some sort of contact with him. But if that’s the case, Lewis apparently never mentioned this to his friends and a video from a nearby neighborhood’s security camera allegedly shows Lewis waiting there for Jehle drive by, instead of at her house.
Lewis’ parents attempted to retrieve the text messages from his phone in an effort to get some understanding, but they were unable to do so. They asked MPD to get those messages, but it’s unclear if they did, or if those messages contained any useful information. In Kelley’s podcast, she said Andrew’s sister, Laura, made contact with Jehle and that Jehle told her that she turned over the messages between her and Andrew.
Another possibility is that Lewis went to wait for Jehle because he wanted to make some attempt to either make things better between them or gain some better understanding of what occurred earlier that morning and the night before. Lewis’ friends say he was caught off guard by the confrontation with Miller and was somewhat confused by why Miller was so hostile towards him at The Alley Bar. He was also upset by what happened at the Montgomery Police precinct, where Jehle and Miller filed a complaint against him and he offered a counter-complaint.
But whatever occurred, this was the act that changed the course of this thing.
Why did Jehle record it?
According to a few very reliable sources who have intimate knowledge of the case, one of the videos retrieved of the aftermath of the shooting came from Jehle. And it’s an act that I just can’t wrap my head around.
Think about it. She was just involved in this chase that ended with gunshots and a crash. Her longtime on-and-off boyfriend is, at best, unconscious in a car that’s on fire, and her reaction is to open the camera on her phone and start recording?
On the other, after running this scenario past a number of people, several suggested that maybe, because of the tumultuous relationship between Jehle and Lewis for so many years, it’s possible that recording such an incident was just something she did as a means of protecting herself against accusations later. Sort of a go-to after an incident.
Still, it seems strange to me.
Why was this handled so poorly by MPD?
I don’t criticize police on a routine basis. They have a tough job, and doing it properly is often times misunderstood by the general public as doing it callously or poorly. That said, there were a number of questionable actions by police in this case – and really out-of-place involvement from higher-ups way early on – that raise serious questions.
One of the biggest is why it took police some eight hours to get to the Lewis house the day Andrew Lewis was killed.
Police departments typically take notification of family after a death very seriously. Even if that death followed an illegal act or prompted an investigation. Part of the reason for that, especially in cases where an investigation will follow, police want the freshest interview possible with family members who knew the victim and his circumstances.
But for some reason, MPD waited most of the day to alert a fairly well-known family in town about the death of a fairly popular and very well-known local musician. Why? What were they investigating for so long and so thoroughly that they couldn’t break away?
I think part of that answer comes from the questions asked of the Lewis family. MPD detectives seemed to have a full rundown of the history between Lewis and Jehle, and were fairly confident that Lewis was the aggressor.
Another reason for the long delay was likely the involvement from on-high. According to a source familiar with MPD, Mayor Todd Strange was involved early and alerted police chief Earnest Finley to the “sensitive nature” of the crime because of the “prominent people” involved. To be clear, the source did not accuse Strange or any other higher-up of directing the investigation or interfering in any way, only that it was odd how quickly the mayor and other MPD higher-ups were involved.
The Wrap Up
As I bring this series to a close, I wish I could tell you that I have uncovered some smoking gun that proves this was a murder, or proves it wasn’t. But I simply don’t have it, and I don’t envy the people at the DA’s office or on the grand jury who have to determine which way to go with it.
Hopefully, if nothing else, the series has helped you gain some understanding of what took place and can at least be considered a collection of detailed information on the case.
Tuberville calls for term limits, balanced budget and lobbying reform
Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.
Senate candidate Tommy Tuberville’s campaign began emphasizing key structural reforms that the Republican nominee hopes to advance if elected to the U.S. Senate including congressional term limits, withholding lawmakers’ paychecks unless a balanced budget is passed and a ban on former officials becoming lobbyists.
“Only an outsider like me can help President Trump drain the Swamp, and any of the proposals outlined in this ad will begin the process of pulling the plug,” Tuberville said in a statement. “Doug Jones has had his chance, and he failed our state, so now it’s time to elect a senator who will work to fundamentally change the way that Washington operates.”
Tuberville has also made a major media buy across the state to trumpet this message.
“You know Washington politicians could learn a lot from the folks in small town Alabama, but Doug Jones … he’s too liberal to teach them,” Tuberville added.
Polls consistently show that term limits are popular with people across both political parties, but the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that imposing term limits would be adding a qualification to be a member of Congress and that can only be done by constitutional amendment.
It is an unspoken truth that when Americans send someone to Congress they never come back. They either keep getting re-elected like Alabama’s own Sen. Richard Shelby, who is in his sixth term in the Senate after four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. On the other hand, they may become lobbyists getting paid to influence their colleagues on behalf of corporations, foreign governments or some well funded non-government organization.
Tuberville said he would ban that practice.
A balanced budget amendment almost passed in the 1980s and again in the 1990s.
Since that failure, Congress has increasingly passed bigger and bigger budget deficits. The U.S. government borrowed more money during the eight years of President George W. Bush’s presidency than the government had borrowed in the first 224 years of the country combined.
President Barack Obama followed and the TARP program propped up the post-Great Recession economy. Rather than cutting the deficit, President Donald Trump invested billions in the military and a tax cut without cutting domestic spending. The 2020 coronavirus crisis has further grown the budget.
The government has borrowed trillions to prop up the economy and provide stimulus while investing billions into medical research and treating the virus victims. Congress is currently debating a fifth stimulus package that would add more to the deficit.
Both a balanced budget amendment and a term limits amendment would have to be ratified by the states if passed by Congress. Tuberville is challenging incumbent Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama.
House passes General Fund Budget
By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The Alabama House of Representatives passed the state General Fund Budget on Tuesday.
The General Fund Budget for the 2019 fiscal year is Senate Bill 178. It is sponsored by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose. State Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, carried the budget on the House floor. Clouse chairs the House Ways and Means General Fund Committee.
Clouse said, “Last year we monetized the BP settlement money and held over $97 million to this year.”
Clouse said that the state is still trying to come up with a solution to the federal lawsuit over the state prisons. The Governor’s Office has made some progress after she took over from Gov. Robert Bentley. The supplemental we just passed added $30 million to prisons.
The budget adds $50 million to the Department of Corrections.
Clouse said that the budget increased the money for prisons by $55,680,000 and includes $4.8 million to buy the privately-owned prison facility in Perry County.
Clouse said that the budget raises funding for the judicial system and raises the appropriation for the Forensic Sciences to $11.7 million.
The House passed a committee substitute so the Senate is either going to have to concur with the changes made by the House or a conference committee will have to be appointed. Clouse told reporters that he hoped that it did not have to go to conference.
Clouse said that the budget had added $860,000 to hire more Juvenile Probation Officers. After talking to officials with the court system that was cut in half in the amendment. The amendment also includes some wording the arbiters in the court lawsuit think we need.
The state General Fund Budget, SB178, passed 98-1.
Both budgets have now passed the Alabama House of Representatives.
The 2019 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1, 2018.
In addition to the SGF, the House also passed a supplemental appropriation for the current 2018 budget year. SB175 is also sponsored by Pittman and was carried by Clouse on the floor of the House.
SB175 includes $30 million in additional 2018 money for the Department of Corrections. The Departmental Emergency Fund, the Examiners of Public Accounts, the Insurance Department and Forensic Sciences received additional money.
Clouse said, “We knew dealing with the federal lawsuit was going to be expensive. We are adding $80 million to the Department of Corrections.”
State Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, R-Red Bay, said that state Department of Forensics was cut from $14 million to $9 million. “Why are we adding money for DA and courts if we don’t have money for forensics to provide evidence? if there is any agency in law enforcement or the court system that should be funded it is Forensics.”
The supplemental 2018 appropriation passed 80 to 1.
The House also passed SB203. It was sponsored by Pittman and was carried in the House by State Rep. Ken Johnson, R-Moulton. It raises securities and registration fees for agents and investment advisors. It increases the filing fees for certain management investment companies. Johnson said that those fees had not been adjusted since 2009.
The House also passed SB176, which is an annual appropriation for the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The bill requires that the agency have an operations plan, audited financial statement, and quarterly and end of year reports. SB176 is sponsored by Pittman and was carried on the House floor by State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chatham.
The House passed Senate Bill 185 which gives state employees a cost of living increase in the 2019 budget beginning on October 1. It was sponsored by Sen. Clyde Chambliss, R-Prattville and was being carried on the House floor by state Rep. Dimitri Polizos, R-Montgomery.
Polizos said that this was the first raise for non-education state employees in nine years. It is a 3 percent raise.
SB185 passed 101-0.
Senate Bill 215 gives retired state employees a one time bonus check. SB215 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Guntersville.
Rich said that retired employees will get a bonus $1 for every month that they worked for the state. For employees who retired with 25 years of service that will be a $300 one time bonus. A 20-year retiree would get $240 and a 35-year employee would get $420.
SB215 passed the House 87-0.
The House passed Senate Bill 231, which is the appropriation bill increase amount to the Emergency Forest Fire and Insect and Disease Fund. SB231 is sponsored by Sen. Steve Livingston, R-Scottsboro, and was carried on the House floor by state Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.
State Rep. Elaine Beech, D-Chathom, said, “Thank you for bringing this bill my district is full of trees and you never know when a forest fire will hit.
SB231 passed 87-2.
The state of Alabama is unique among the states in that most of the money is earmarked for specific purposes allowing the Legislature little year-to-year flexibility in moving funds around.
The SGF includes appropriations for the Alabama Medicaid Agency, the courts, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Alabama Department of Corrections, mental health, and most state agencies that are no education related. The Alabama Department of Transportation gets their funding mostly from state fuel taxes.
The Legislature also gives ALEA a portion of the gas taxes. K-12 education, the two year college system, and all the universities get their state support from the education trust fund (ETF) budget. There are also billions of dollars in revenue that are earmarked for a variety of purposes that does not show up in the SGF or ETF budgets.
Examples of that include the Public Service Commission, which collects utility taxes from the industries that it regulates. The PSC is supported entirely by its own revenue streams and contributes $13 million to the SGF. The Secretary of State’s Office is entirely funded by its corporate filing and other fees and gets no SGF appropriation.
Clouse warned reporters that part of the reason this budget had so much money was due to the BP oil spill settlement that provided money for the 2018 budget and $97 million for the 2019 budget. Clouse said they elected to make a $13 million repayment to the Alabama Trust fund that was not due until 2020 but that is all that was held over for 2020.
Clouse predicted that the Legislature will have to make some hard decisions about revenue in next year’s session.
Day Care bill delayed for second time on Senate floor, may be back Thursday
By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter
The day care bill, which would license certain day care centers in Alabama, was once again delayed on the state Senate floor after one lawmaker requested more information.
Its brief appearance Tuesday ended with state Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, saying a compromise had not yet been worked out with the bill’s detractors.
Alabama’s Senate has been hesitant to act on the legislation because of complaints of state Sen. Shay Shelnutt, R-Trussville, who has been an opponent of the bill since its introduction last year. The bill’s delay on Tuesday marks the second time its been taken off the Senate’s agenda.
The bill has had a rocky time in this year’s session, but the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Pebblin Warren, D-Tuskegee, said she is still confident about its passage out of the Legislature.
Warren, D-Tuskegee, filed the bill this session with the support of influential lawmakers including Gov. Kay Ivey, who told reporters last year that she though all day cares should be licensed.
Mainly sparked by the death of 5-year-old boy in the care of a unlicensed day care worker, the bill had great momentum coming into this year’ session.
Despite the growing support from lawmakers, Religious groups had concerns that the bill would increase state-sponsored reach into religious day cares in churches and non-profit groups.
Spearheading the dissenters was Alabama Citizens Action Program, a conservative religious-based PAC.
Warren, proponents, and ALCAP announced a compromise to the bill while it was still in the Alabama House.
Announced by ALCAP originally, the new bill was a weaker version in that it did not require that all day cares in the state be regulated. Instead, religious-based day cares would only need to be registered if they received federal funds. At a Senate committee meeting in February, Warren said a similar requirement was about to come from federal law in Congress.
The bill moved through the House in a overwhelming vote in favor of the proposal and passed unanimously out of a Senate committee a few weeks ago.
Warren, speaking to reporters after its passage from the House, said she was unsure if the bill would encounter resistance in the upper chamber.
It was the Senate that killed the daycare bill last year amid a cramped last day where senators took the bill off the floor. The bill may face similar complications this year, as lawmakers seem to be preparing to adjourn within a few weeks.
Fantasy sports bill fails on Senate floor
By Samuel Mattison
Alabama Political Reporter
Would-be Fantasy Sports players in Alabama will have to wait to legally play in the state following a Senate vote on Tuesday.
The Alabama Senate decisively killed a bill to exempt fantasy sports from the state’s prohibition on gambling.
Not even entertaining a debate on the Senate floor, the proposal was killed during a vote for the Budget Isolation Resolution, which is usually a formality vote preluding a debate.
Fantasy sports are contests where participants select players from real teams to compete on fantasy teams using the real-world players’ stats.
Since 2016, the practice has been illegal in Alabama following a legal decision by the Attorney General’s Office that categorized it as gambling.
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Paul Sanford, R-Huntsville, predicted the bill’s failure during a committee meeting two weeks ago, where the bill passed unanimously.
- Sen. Paul Sanford speaks to reporters after a Senate Committee meeting on Feb. 28, 2018. (Samuel Mattison/APR)
Speaking to reporter’s after the committee meeting, Sanford said the decision to file the bill was mainly a philosophical belief that the practice shouldn’t be illegal.
Sanford, a fantasy sports player before its ban, said that fantasy sports are a way to bring people closer together and not a means to win money. The Huntsville senator is not seeking re-election.
The bill’s failure in the Senate follows its trajectory last year too. A similar version of the bill, also sponsored by Sanford, failed in the Senate during the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session.
Since Sanford is retiring, it is unclear if the bill will even come back next session, or if it will even have a Senate sponsor.