By Philip Jankowski
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON - Andre Nathaniel Hamilton had to be led from the courtroom by armed sheriff's deputies after he was found guilty of capital murder late Tuesday night.
Sorrowful calls from the families of Hamilton, 23, and co-defendant Derrick Lynn Lewis, 19, came from the audience after 27th District Court Judge Joe Carroll pronounced a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.
"You can't take a life for a life," one woman yelled as the jury of seven women and five men were escorted from the court room. "He ain't coming back."
All 12 jurors had just told the court individually that they believed Hamilton and Lewis were conspirators in the 2008 shooting death of Jamie Lujan Jr., an apartment manager in Temple.
Both Hamilton and Lewis stood quietly as the verdict was read, but when the sentence was pronounced and they were asked to be seated, Hamilton shrugged his shoulders, appearing at first confused and then angry as he struck a cup on top of his desk, spraying water over a bevy of court documents. He walked from behind the desk and was met by two Bell County sheriff's deputies, who grabbed his arms and led him into a holding room.
Lujan's family stood in silence as loud banging noises were heard from the adjacent room.
As Lewis was led from the court, a woman cried out that she loved him, and the defendants' families, whom Carroll had instructed to hold their emotions, began to weep and openly curse the verdict.
The verdict ended a six-day trial in which the two men were accused of the 2008 murder of Lujan, in what prosecutors painted as a retaliatory act against the wrong man. A third man, Anthony Jerome Thomas, was also implicated in the murder. Thomas pleaded guilty in October and was also sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Lujan was the manager of an apartment complex where Hamilton, Lewis and Thomas stayed. Lujan had recently taken over the job in August 2008 to help clean up the apartment complex of a criminal element.
As part of that effort, Lujan and apartment maintenance man Mark Jimenez met with an officer from a Bell County Constable office Aug. 22 to help the officer serve a warrant for Lewis. The officer never found Lewis, but Jimenez helped the officer locate another wanted man, Montrell Wright.
Hamilton and Lewis witnessed Jimenez help the officer apprehend their friend. After that, prosecutors contend they, along with Thomas, began to conspire to "get the maintenance man."
Prosecutors Leslie McWilliams' and Paul McWilliams' case against the two became somewhat marred by the testimony of two women, an ex-girlfriend of Lewis', Byronishia Moore, and their friend, Lakeisha Davis. Both gave statements to police and investigators that they had overheard conversations in which Lewis and Hamilton planned to retaliate against Jimenez.
But when asked at the trial, they were sometimes combative and inconsistent in their testimony.
The inconsistencies were a point Hamilton's co-counsel David Fernandez centered upon during closing arguments.
"How many times did you hear a witness say 'I don't know' or 'I'm not sure,'" Fernandez told the jury.
Six days after Wright was arrested, witness Yolanda Evans told the court she saw three men conceal their faces from her apartment window. Soon after, she heard several gun shots and saw Thomas run up a staircase. Davis also testified she heard several gunshots just prior to seeing all three men run up a staircase and into an adjacent apartment.
The target of those overheard shots was Lujan. He was shot five times by two handguns. He was able to call 911 and describe the clothes of one of his attackers. However, he soon became unresponsive. He died at Scott & White Hospital three days later.
Investigators believe Jimenez was the intended target of the attack.
During closing arguments, Hamilton's lead defense attorney, Tim Mahler, warned the jury of rushing to judgment during closing arguments, using the Clint Eastwood Movie "Hang 'Em High" as an analogy. He likened a jury seeking snap justice to the posse that wrongly pursued Eastwood's character in the movie for a murder he hadn't committed.
"The point is at least most of these people weren't bad guys," Mahler told the jury. "They're people thinking they were doing something right."
Lewis' attorneys focused on a gunshot residue test, which had been challenged before the trial.
The jury took 3½ hours to convict Hamilton and Lewis. While deliberating, they first asked to review a surveillance tape from a convenience store the day of the shooting depicting Lewis and Thomas.
They also asked to review the testimony of Moore and Davis. Shortly after, they returned the guilty verdict.