DENVER — A jury hands down 16 guilty verdicts this morning in Denver's first death penalty case in more than 10 years.
Dexter Lewis convicted of killing five people during a botched robbery at a Denver bar then setting it on fire.
But the jury's work is not over. They may face their toughest task yet.
“As to the charge of murder in the first degree after deliberation against Young Suk Fero, we the jury find the defendant Dexter Lewis guilty," said Denver District Court Judge John Madden.
Count after count. "We find the defendant guilty of first-degree arson," said Madden.
"As to the charge of aggravated robbery against Tereasa Beesley, we find the jury find the defendant guilty," he said.
A jury finds Lewis guilty of stabbing to death four women and one man inside Fero's Bar and Grill in October 2012.
"The defendant stabbed them over and over and over and over, going down the line, the last victim having to wait for his or her turn,” said Prosecutor Joe Morales.
There is now no doubt about Lewis' guilt.
But there is no clear answer yet how he'll be punished.
"I'm going to direct you to not think what the right penalty may in the case be at this point. I need to keep an open mind all the way through the penalty stage, until you hear all the evidence," said Madden to the jury.
The penalty involves potentially three steps.
The first is the aggravation stage, in which prosecutors present evidence as to why the jury should sentence Lewis to death.
The second phase is mitigation, and allows Lewis' lawyers to present evidence as to why death would be too harsh a punishment.
If aggravating factors outweigh mitigating factors, then jurors move to the third phase, in which they hear from victims' families--and decide life or death.
If jurors can't reach a unanimous decision in stage two, Lewis gets an automatic life sentence.
Today's verdicts, no doubt, bring some comfort for victims’ families--and dismay for Lewis's.
Who had no comment after 16 guilty verdicts, with the biggest decision yet to come.
Prosecutors kick off phase one at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow morning. And will last just a day.
Then, the defense gets its turn. They expect to take up to two weeks.
We'll know after they're done, if jurors move to phase three.AlertMe