Arson Suspect Freed After Officials Burn 2nd House
Authorities fixed up a condemned house and burned it to get evidence that led to freedom for an arson-murder suspect who spent five months in jail.
Gerald Wayne Lewis, 35, had been charged with the deaths of his wife and five other family members after their two-story frame home burned. The charges were dropped Thursday after the test burn, on an identical house next door, confirmed parts of Lewis’ defense.
Lewis immediately boarded a bus for Shreveport, La., where other family members live, attorney Bill White said.
“He was relieved, but there was no way he could come out of this as a winner. He had lost his wife and his family members,” White said.
Lewis was found outside his house on Oct. 15, holding his 3-year-old son, when firefighters arrived. The unemployed carpenter became an arson suspect after it was learned that he was under a restraining order to stay away from his wife, Carolyn, after alleged beatings. A divorce was pending.
The child who survived the fire, Geramiah Lewis, has now told investigators that he was playing with matches.
The test burn cast doubt on investigators’ belief that an accelerant, such as gasoline, had been poured in the front door of the house. Lewis had a bottle of gas in his car, which he said was for the lawn mower.
The state spent an estimated $20,000 to reconstruct the condemned house next door and burn it on March 7, said Frank Ashton, assistant state attorney. The cost included experts to investigate and watch the demonstration.
Ashton said investigators were surprised at how quickly the test blaze burned. Afterward, officials found streaks on the floor that resembled those in the fatal fire that had been attributed to the accelerant.
“It basically mirrored the way the defendant said it happened, so a reasonable doubt exists in this case,” Ashton said.