Man's murder trial begins after couple's alleged botched ransom of real estate agent

Investigators focused on Arron Lewis after a real estate agent disappeared while showing a home in a rural area outside Little Rock. Emails and phone records, they said, showed Lewis and his wife set up a viewing for a property with Beverly Carter, whose body was found days later in a shallow grave.

But key evidence has been barred from Lewis' trial, which began Tuesday. Citing missteps by law enforcement, a judge blocked much of the information gleaned from Lewis' police interviews and material found during searches of his home and vehicle - including pieces of Carter's hair.

Lewis' attorney, Bill James, has said the judge's ruling would help him "put on the best possible defense" for Lewis, who has pleaded not guilty to capital murder and kidnapping. On Monday, James said he expected to be able to find impartial jurors despite extensive media coverage of the case.

"I need people who are going to be honest and judge the case based on what's proven and make a fair decision. I think we can find that," James said.

Jury selection wrapped up in the high-profile case Tuesday afternoon, and jurors were told to avoid news about the case before being dismissed. Opening statements are scheduled to begin Wednesday morning.

Carter, 50, disappeared in September 2014 after telling her husband she was going to show a house in a rural area of Scott, an area about 15 miles east of Little Rock. Her body was found days later in a shallow grave at a concrete plant where Lewis had previously worked.

Police began looking at Lewis and his estranged wife, Crystal Lowery, after phone and email records tied an account registered to Lowery to a phone number used to call Carter to arrange the house showing.

Lowery is serving a 30-year prison sentence after pleading guilty in July to first-degree murder and kidnapping in Carter's death. Prosecutors will be allowed to use her testimony about the alleged plan to target Carter, including plans to find a married real estate agent so they had someone to pay ransom.

Lewis had a car wreck while detectives had him under surveillance as a person of interest. They took his phone as evidence and later searched his wrecked car and the home he shared with Lowery. Lewis ran from the hospital after the car wreck but was later captured and arrested by Little Rock police.

Most of the information investigators gathered while interviewing Lewis was excluded from trial under a ruling in December by Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Herbert Wright. Lewis had invoked his right to have an attorney present while being transported by Little Rock police, but no attorney was provided to him during the interrogation with the Pulaski County sheriff's investigators, the judge said.

Wright also said search warrants obtained by detectives were overly broad and ruled that evidence found in Lewis' trunk and home will not be allowed. The warrants found duct tape and Carter's hair in the trunk, and her phone and other items of hers at the home.

However, prosecutors will be allowed to play a recording obtained from the voice memos on Lewis' phone where Carter can be heard telling her husband to follow ransom instructions and that things could get bad if he were to call the police. Lewis played the recording during the interrogations.

Prosecutors also will be able to show jurors text exchanges between Lewis and Lowery in which they discuss looking at other houses for sale to find one that does not have a security system, specifically cameras.

The judge also ruled that Lowery can testify about the alleged plan, despite the defense seeking exclusion for marital privilege.
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