The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Crime & Courts

December 2, 2013

Former Sarcoxie board member withdraws guilty plea

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — A federal judge has allowed former Sarcoxie School Board member John Lewis to withdraw the guilty plea he entered to a charge of possessing child pornography.

After pleading guilty Oct. 9 in U.S. District Court in Springfield in a plea agreement that would have required the 67-year-old Lewis to serve up to 10 years in prison, the defendant changed attorneys.

His new lawyers and the U.S. attorney’s office filed a joint motion Nov. 22 asking that Lewis be permitted to withdraw the plea. U.S. Magistrate Judge David Rush granted the request last week.

Under terms of the scuttled agreement, Lewis was facing a minimum of five years of supervised release upon completion of his prison term, and he could have been required to report to a parole officer for the remainder of his life.

The withdrawal of the plea deal means Lewis still faces a second count of receiving child pornography over the Internet as well as the charge of possessing illicit material. The U.S. attorney’s office had agreed to dismiss the one count in exchange for his guilty plea on the other. A grand jury indictment handed up Feb. 28 also included forfeiture allegations to which Lewis had pleaded guilty.

The indictment stems from an investigation by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Southwest Missouri Cyber Crimes Task Force.

Investigators went to Lewis’ home in December 2012 after an allegation that he had exposed himself to a Sarcoxie High School student had surfaced. During questioning, he allegedly divulged that he had downloaded to his computer images of naked children found on a nudist website.

A search warrant was obtained, and investigators seized three computers and some electronic storage devices found in his home. Forensic analysis of the confiscated items reportedly led to the discovery of 19 multimedia files and 113 images of suspected child pornography.

Lewis, whose name remained on the ballot for another term on the school board in the April election, was not re-elected by voters.

Scuttled deal

SPRINGFIELD ATTORNEY DEE WAMPLER had been representing former Sarcoxie School Board member John Lewis at the time of a plea agreement reached in October. Attorneys Thomas Carver, Shane Cantin and Erica Mynarich since have entered appearances on his behalf, and the plea deal has been scrapped.

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