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Denver jury hears about abusive childhood of bar killer facing death penalty

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DENVER — A Denver jury heard more details Wednesday about the abusive childhood of a man facing the death penalty for killing five people in a botched bar robbery.

The mother of Dexter Lewis sobbed on the stand as she described beating her son and how he witnessed bloody fights between his parents.

Lewis was convicted of murder Aug. 10 for stabbing five people to death three years ago.

The jury is now considering the death penalty for Lewis, who prosecutors say went to Fero's Bar and Grill with three other men and led the attack. Two other men have been sentenced to lengthy prison sentences.

The jury now is hearing testimony brought by Lewis' defense team as it tries to spare his life.

Lewis' mother broke down in tears multiple times as she told jurors about his earliest years.

Tammesa Jones described beating the boy with a metal 5-pound barbell. Jones said she once struck him in the back of his head until he lost consciousness.

"I thought I killed him," said Jones, who repeatedly looked at her son in the courtroom. Lewis kept his eyes downcast, wiping away tears with a handkerchief, and didn't look back at his mother.

Jones also spoke about how Lewis witnessed her own physical and sexual abuse at the hands of men.

One day, she said, Lewis' father threw a knife at her in front of the boy because he didn't like the way she chopped tomatoes for tacos she was cooking. The knife severed an artery in her arm, causing 10-month-old Dexter to be covered in blood.

"He crawled to me and was just grabbing my leg," Jones said through sobs. "He knew something was wrong, but he didn't know what it was."

It was the third day of testimony about Lewis' abusive childhood. Jurors will decide after the defense team finishes arguments whether to sentence Lewis to life in prison or to proceed to the final part of Colorado's lengthy death-penalty sentencing phase. In the final phase, victims' relatives would talk about how their lives have been affected by the crime.

Prosecutors say Lewis went to the bar with three other men in October 2012 and stabbed the bar's owner, Young Suk Fero, 53, and four customers — Daria M. Pohl, 21, of Denver; Kellene Fallon, 44, of Denver; Ross Richter, 29, of Overland Park, Kansas; and Tereasa Beesley, 45, of Denver.

Brothers Joseph and Lynell Hill pleaded guilty under deals with prosecutors and received lengthy sentences. The fourth man, Demarea Harris, was a confidential informant at the time for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and reported the slayings to authorities. He was never charged in the case.

Harris and Lynell Hill testified that Lewis stabbed all five people. Joseph Hill refused to testify.

Lewis allegedly told his cellmate that he had to kill everyone in the bar because they'd seen his face as he killed the first victim.

If sentenced to death, Lewis would become the first person sentenced to death by a Denver jury since 1986, and the fourth person on Colorado's death row.

Colorado has not executed anyone since 1997.

Earlier this month, a separate jury in suburban Arapahoe County rejected the death penalty for another mass murderer — Aurora movie theater shooter James Holmes, who killed 12 people in the 2012 attack.


Kristen Wyatt can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt

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