Injustice Anywhere, an all-volunteer organization working to bring more attention to wrongful convictions, has added the Edward “Max” Lewis case to their list of Endorsed Cases.
Edward “Max” Lewis was convicted in Wisconsin in 2004 for the repeated sexual assault of his step-daughter, over a span of two-years beginning in 2002. Lewis was sentenced to 22 years of incarceration. He was released from prison in 2015, and is currently on probation until 2025. Due to Wisconsin’s bifurcated sentencing system, Lewis is still considered incarcerated during his probation and can be returned to prison at any time. Also as a result of this system, Lewis is still able to appeal his sentence, even though he is not currently in prison.
Injustice Anywhere will be providing many more details of Max’s case in the coming weeks and months. We are encouraging our readers to check our website often to learn more about the case and to keep up to date with current events.
Max Lewis Case Overview
By Tom Zupancic and Karen Harden
The Max Lewis case is a complicated one that involves several people in Lewis’s own family. Evidence, and especially the lack there of, now shows that Lewis is the victim of a wrongful conviction. His story is not one that is easy to explain, and many of the details are disturbing because they deal with accusations of sexual assault of children and family members.
Lewis had a brutal childhood, living as a Native American orphan in a flawed Indian child welfare system that left him homeless by the age of 15. Throughout his childhood, he was subjected to neglect and abuse in the foster care system and was also the victim of a failed adoption which left him devastated. In spite of all this, Lewis was a music prodigy and became an extremely talented musician.
Lewis overcame adversity and got back on his feet in his later teen years by working a variety of jobs and pursuing his passion for music. At the age of 18, Lewis obtained placement of his five siblings who had also suffered through rough childhoods. Lewis married Tammy Lewis, who had three children of her own. They all came together to live in a house owned by Tammy. Max and Tammy would go on to add to the bunch with a child of their own. Lewis’s sense of obligation to care for his family was a fundamental component of his character.
Still, Lewis was in treatment for mental illness over a long period of time. He was able to keep things together as he tried to provide for his growing family, but in September of 2003, Lewis had a mental breakdown that would change his life forever.
Lewis fell into a state of psychosis while attempting to deal with disturbing activities that were taking place in his home. Lewis’s five-year-old step-daughter was showing signs of sexual behavior that seemed odd to Lewis and his wife. The child was rubbing up against a pillow in a sexual way. The child also showed the same behavior while on a nap mat at school.
One morning while watching Dora the Explorer, the five-year-old was influenced by the subject of the show, which was a discussion about playing games. While watching the show, the child began talking about a “game” that her uncle Orin (Lewis’s brother) and her brother (Lewis’s step-son) would play. The “game” involved sexual activity. Hearing this information sent Lewis over the edge. While in a poor mental state, Lewis told his wife that he was responsible for the “game” that was being played, referring to his sense of obligation to look after his family. He had, after all, brought Orin into the household. Lewis’s wife was concerned and consulted with her mother for advice. As a result, Lewis’s mother-in-law called the police, and Lewis was taken into custody.
Lewis’s mental illness is a core issue of his case. Lewis had been through a series of tragic events throughout his life, which all contributed to his breakdown. Besides the abuses he suffered in foster care, Lewis also had family events which would have a deep impact.
Lewis was witness to seeing his brother die after being hit by a car, and in a shocking family twist, he would later have to deal with his brother-in-law’s suicide, after his brother-in-law found out that his own father was having an affair with his wife. The brother-in-law’s death was not immediate, which gave him the opportunity to give Lewis a message from his deathbed. He told Lewis that he was holding him accountable for taking care of his sister (Lewis’s wife). This was a responsibility that Lewis took very seriously.
These traumatic events may have been handled better if Lewis had not been suffering with a mental illness. But due to his illness, Lewis became paranoid that he was going to die, just like his brother and brother-in-law had. He also feared that his dead brother-in-law was going to come back to kill him for failing to properly take care of his wife. In Lewis’s mind, he was responsible for everything that occurred in his home. The trauma that was occurring with his step-daughter proved to be more than Lewis could bear.
Upon his arrest, Lewis’s mental health issues were apparent, and a jail nurse tried to help get him treatment. But in a critical turn of events, Lewis was denied assistance. Initially, Lewis had an attorney who raised an issue of competency. Lewis had a court order to be transferred to an inpatient facility. However, the district attorney failed to execute the court order and then later lied about why this occurred. As Lewis was later appointed a new attorney and judge, no one realized Lewis never received critical treatment. Despite this, competency was alluded to again shortly before trial, and the district attorney lied again, telling the court that Lewis had already received a competency hearing. This was a serious act of misconduct.
During the investigation, authorities became aware of the involvement of Lewis’s brother Orin and Lewis’s stepson. As a result, the district attorney offered Lewis’s brother immunity and a plea agreement in return for testifying that he was also a victim and that he observed other acts of abuse in the home. In exchange for his testimony, the prosecution offered a punishment of time served, meaning that Orin would be a free man if he was willing to testify against his brother for the prosecution.
The details surrounding the five-year-old victim’s statements after Lewis’s arrest are troubling to say the least. Investigators interviewed the child multiple times without the child ever making any incriminating statements against Lewis. The child was given to Lewis’s in-laws to care for her during this time. After the child spent time with the in-laws, her story abruptly changed to incriminate Lewis.
In yet another twist, at the time all of this was happening, Lewis’s in-laws were under investigation for sexually assaulting a grandchild. The grandchild just so happened to be the daughter of Lewis’s brother-in-law who committed suicide after finding his own father in bed with his wife. The father-in-law was not only allegedly having an affair with his daughter-in-law, he was also allegedly molesting his granddaughter.
Why was Lewis’s five-year-old step-daughter sent to stay with grandparents who were under investigation for sexual assault? And why did the child change her story to incriminate Lewis only after spending time with her grandparents? These questions remain unanswered. It is also unknown if the child’s changed story, which benefited the prosecution, had anything to do with the investigation of the grandparents being dropped.
At trial, Lewis didn’t stand a chance. He had not received proper treatment for his mental illness and was in no condition to stand trial. Shockingly, due to the fact that Lewis’s mental health had not been evaluated before trial, his mental illness was not even mentioned to the jury.
Even more shocking was the fact that Lewis was put on the stand. Because of Lewis’s mental state, he was faced with questions he could not understand. Without having proper knowledge that Lewis was suffering with a mental illness, the jury had no explanation for Lewis’s behavior in court.
Additionally, the judge refused to allow the information regarding the brother’s inducements and his plea deal to be heard by the jury. An agreement that dismissed the brother’s greater charge (the charge Lewis was found guilty of). The judge also allowed State witnesses to introduce numerous hearsay issues based on the inducements provided by Lewis’s brother which were never testified to by the alleged victim.
The jury was unaware of the fact that Lewis was suffering from a mental illness. They had testimony from the victim pointing to Lewis, that was far from accurate. The child’s account of events was manipulated by investigators and others before the trial to induce her to implicate Lewis. Her statements were then distorted by the prosecution to mislead the jury. In addition, they heard damning testimony from Lewis’s brother, Orin. Based on the information they were provided; it was not shocking that it only took minutes of deliberation for the jury to find Lewis guilty.
Lewis was initially placed in prison. However, it became apparent that he could not live in a prison setting as he continued to suffer from mental illness.
It was at this time that he was sent to an inpatient hospital where he was diagnosed with a number of severe mental health issues and a previously undiagnosed form of epilepsy called complex partial seizers. These mental health issues would have been recognized before Lewis’s trial if the prosecution’s office had done its job properly.
Once Lewis regained partial functioning, he began to appeal his conviction. During Lewis’s appeal process, his brother Orin recanted his statements and admitted that he lied. He also stated that the prosecutor implied to him that he knew his testimony was false, but he allowed it to be used anyway. As a result of Orin’s recantation, the court ridiculously ordered the district attorney’s office to investigate itself. Of course, the district attorney’s office cleared itself and concluded that Orin’s recantation was false.
Even though Lewis’s brother recanted his testimony, Lewis has been unsuccessful in his appeals, despite the fact that there is currently no solid evidence to support his conviction. The appeals system in America is a complicated one, and it is incredibly difficult to overturn a wrongful conviction regardless of overwhelming proof of innocence.
Lewis does not have the means to hire an attorney who is capable of giving him his best chance of clearing his name. He also lacks the means to hire experts to present the actual facts of his case. That is one of the major shortcomings of our justice system. Without money, it is very difficult to properly defend yourself, no matter how ridiculous the charges might be.
Lewis is currently serving a ten-year probation in Wisconsin. He Is hopeful that an attorney will come forward to take his case pro bono. As of now, that is Lewis’s only hope of finding justice.
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