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Guilty verdict in kidnap-murder of real estate agent

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- A jury convicted an Arkansas man Friday of capital murder in the kidnapping suffocation death of a real estate agent. Arron Lewis was accused of kidnapping and killing 50-year-old Beverly Carter, who disappeared after telling her husband that she was showing a house to a prospective buyer.

Prosecutors in the Little Rock trial said Lewis and his estranged wife, Crystal Lowery, set up the phony house showing in September 2014, then kidnapped Carter her as a part of a ransom plot. Prosecutors argued that Carter was killed when the ransom plot went awry. Her body was later discovered in a shallow grave at a concrete plant where Lewis once worked, and an autopsy found she was suffocated.

Lewis' attorneys had argued that Carter died accidentally during a consensual sex act, a claim that prosecutors said was a total fabrication. Pulaski County Deputy Prosecutor Barbara Mariani said in closing arguments that the defense didn't prove reasonable doubt in the case - and instead presented Lewis' story that was hurtful to Carter's friends and family.

"It wasn't enough to watch her slowly, agonizingly die in terror. He continues the victimization past her death," Mariani said.

But defense attorney Bill James argued that financial problems, marital problems and other issues reasonably could have led Carter to have an affair. "It's not whether she's making reasonable decisions, but is it reasonable that she would be making these decisions? The answer is yes," James said.

Lewis testified in his own defense, at times sparring with Pulaski County Chief Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson during cross-examination. He described burying Carter's body and binding her with duct tape, but insisted that he did not kill her, instead pinning her death on Lowery. Lowery pleaded guilty last year to first-degree murder and kidnapping and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. She testified as a witness for the prosecution and denied Lewis' claims that the death was accidental.

The prosecution got the conviction in spite of not being able to use much of the evidence gathered by police in the case. Pulaski County Circuit Judge Herbert Wright cited missteps by law enforcement when he ruled in December that much evidence couldn't be used at trial - including some statements Lewis made to police and items found in Lewis' car trunk, including Carter's hair and duct tape.

Lewis faces up to life in prison without parole.

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