The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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November 2, 2013

Man acquitted of raping 3 preteen girls

MERCER COUNTY — A Tennessee man accused of raping three girls in central Mercer County last week was found not guilty by a jury of 18 charges.

Michael D. Lewis, 41, of Nashville, initially was charged with nearly 400 counts. The charges were winnowed to 19 before the four-day trial. Prosecutors withdrew a charge of aggravated indecent assault during the trial, and the jury cleared him Oct. 25 of charges that included rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, indecent assault and corruption of minors.

“He was absolutely very elated,” defense attorney Blair H. Hindman, Brookville, said of Lewis. “He can’t get back the 14 months he spent in jail awaiting trial.”

District Attorney Robert G. Kochems said his office was confident in its case at the outset of the trial.

“The jury believed it did what was right and I accept the jury in reaching its verdict fulfilled its role in the criminal justice system,” he said. “We would not have tried the case, with its DNA evidence, if we believed the jury would have returned not guilty verdicts.”

Hindman said the alleged victims’ testimonies were “blatantly different” from what they had told state police.

Lewis took the stand in his own defense.

“He was one of the best defendants I’ve ever seen,” Hindman said of Lewis’ testimony. “He came off as absolutely credible.”

The assaults were said to have occurred in 2009 through 2011 in Jackson Township, near where Lewis used to live, when the girls were 9, 10 and 12.

State police filed charges April 30, 2012, and Lewis was extradited from Tennessee the following month.

Lewis turned down a plea offer of one count of rape, which would have carried a 10-year mandatory prison term. Had he been convicted, many of the charges included mandatory minimum prison terms, which a judge could have stacked one after the other.

While Lewis was in jail, his wife ran his computer recycling business, Hindman said. Lewis has returned to Tennessee to resume his work in the business, Hindman said.

The trial had an unusual side element in that a prospective juror, Khella J. Barfield, was arrested for failing to show up for jury selection or a contempt hearing. She was found to be in contempt by Judge Thomas R. Dobson and spent the better part of a day in jail as punishment.

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