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.