A Pennsylvania man has been convicted of attempted first-degree murder for trying to kill his son over a land dispute in Silver Spring.
On Thursday, a Montgomery County jury also found 80-year-old James Russell Lewis guilty of first-degree assault, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony or crime of violence, and burglary.
The most serious of the charges carries a penalty of up to life in prison. Lewis faces sentencing Feb. 11.
According to prosecutors, Lewis, of Zion Church Road in Robertsdale, Penn., was consumed with anger when his mother gave four acres and a house on Ednor Road in Silver Spring to her grandson instead of to him. In 2012, the house and land were valued at $378,000, according to county land records.
Lewis listened from his wheelchair in Montgomery County Circuit Court on Wednesday as his son, Russell “Rusty” Eugene Lewis, 58, testified against him.
Russell testified that his father had anticipated that the land would be passed on to him.
When Russell told his father about receiving the land instead, his father was “lost for words,” he testified.
In an argument several weeks later, James Lewis drove to Silver Spring to talk about the land with his son.
At one point while the two talked in Russell’s driveway, James Lewis put a gun he had with him on his truck’s console. Russell Lewis said in court that his father told him “I needed to fear him, because I didn’t have a clue what he was capable of.”
He dismissed the conversation as “idle threats,” he said, and traveled to St. Louis for his job as a union insulator.
During that time, according to prosecutors, James Lewis repeatedly called Russell’s aunt, who lived in the house’s basement, trying to find out if his son had returned home.
On Sept. 20, 2011, James Lewis, who was 78 at the time, went to his son’s home shortly after learning he had returned from St. Louis, prosecutors said. He took careful steps to cover his tracks, including masking the license plates of his pickup truck with red plastic and parking out of sight of the house at a nearby church, according to the prosecution.
Then, he threaded his way through a wooded area and walked to the house, using a key to let himself in. According to witnesses at trial, he did not have permission to be in the house.
James Lewis took off his shoes and tiptoed upstairs, then stood at the foot of the couch where his son was sleeping, and pointed a gun at him, prosecutors said.
Russell Lewis woke up to hear his father say “this is for you,” before shooting at his head twice as he lay on the couch, he said.
Russell survived the shooting because, as he was waking up, he flung an arm across his face, intercepting a bullet headed straight for his forehead, prosecutors said.
Russell said he wrestled his father to the ground, took the gun, left the house, and called police.
Doctors removed the bullet lodged in his arm. The other had grazed his skull and hit a pillow on the bed.
James Lewis pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder in May 2012, but court records show the plea was vacated, in March 2013, online court records show.
James Lewis’s attorney, Ronald Gottlieb, argued that police did not perform crucial tests that might have been favorable to his client, such as a gunshot residue test, and that prosecutors failed to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that James Lewis was the shooter.
“Wouldn’t it be nice for them to fulfill their promise to you to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt?” he said.
He said evidence that would have corroborated Russell Lewis’s testimony — like blood on the bed on which he had been sleeping — was never found.
Prosecutors argued that James Lewis further implicated himself after telling police contradictory stories about the events that took place.
According to Koch, Lewis said he wanted to talk to his son about the land and he took the gun with him because he was afraid there would be a fight while they talked.
Gottlieb said the difference in stories was explained by the fact that James Lewis was “pummelled” by his son in the incident and might not have been able to remember exactly what happened.
When asked during the trial why he had a gun with him, James Lewis said he had $1,800 in his truck. He planned to talk to his son and tell him he was going to contest the deed’s transfer.
He said he masked his plates because he didn’t want his son to see his tags. He also made other statements that didn’t match, like having woken up on the floor and having seen the gun next to him, prosecutors said.
“He came in knowing exactly what he wanted to do,” Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney Sherri Koch argued in her closing statements, speaking of the planning James Lewis made in his plan to kill his son.