BY DAYNA WORCHEL
TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH (KYTX) - Connie Hilton was raped in the same room where she saw her husband, George Newman, murdered on a September night in 1990 inside their Tyler home.
The now-62-year-old woman was tied up and left for dead after being beaten and sexually assaulted by Rickey Lynn Lewis, of Tyler.
On Thursday, she received justice 22 years later.
Smith County Judge Christi Kennedy of the 114th District Court sentenced Lewis, now 50, to die by lethal injection on April 9.
Lewis, whose criminal history began at the age of 10 when he shot his father with a 12-gauge shotgun, was one of three men who broke into the victims' home on Sept. 17, 1990. After shooting her husband and beating and sexually assaulting Ms. Hilton, Lewis and the other two men shot the couple's dog and burglarized their home, Ms. Hilton said. The other two men were never captured, she said.
After Lewis beat Ms. Hilton and bit her, he left the scene in her car, she said.
Although the Tyler Morning Telegraph does not publish the names of sexual assault victims, Ms. Hilton gave her permission for her name to be printed.
"Coming up here (to the courthouse) today gave me flashbacks," she said, adding that she "was in shock for about a year" after the event happened. Ms. Hilton's mother and sister, who were present with her in court Thursday, took turns sleeping in her bedroom for a year after the incident, always with the lights turned on.
Ms. Hilton said the experience has left her on an "emotional rollercoaster" for the past 22 years, and she did not know whether she would be present for Lewis' execution in Huntsville in April.
"I may be there, but I don't know if I will witness it," she said. Other relatives present in Smith County District Attorney Matt Bingham's office after the sentencing said they plan to witness it.
Bingham credits Judge Kennedy, who set the execution date quickly and the persistence of current Smith County 241st District Judge Jack Skeen Jr., who prosecuted Lewis in multiple trials between 1993 and 2003.
Skeen was a Smith County prosecutor at that time. The execution date was given on Thursday after Lewis exhausted multiple appeals, including one in federal court, Bingham said.
Wes Volberding, Lewis' appeals attorney, said he expected the case to head for the U.S. Supreme Court soon, and that a brief would be filed by Feb. 18 to decide whether the proper rules were used to decide whether the defendant was guilty.
"We are hopeful the Supreme Court will stay the execution pending the court's decision," Volberding said.
Lewis was originally convicted and sentenced to death in the capital murder crime in 1993, but the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the death sentence, saying the jury decided on the sentence using some incorrect information, Bingham said.
The appeals court ordered a new trial on Lewis' punishment in 1996, and a second Smith County jury again convicted Lewis. In 2000, Lewis filed appeals in state and federal court, which were both denied.
The defendant filed another appeal in 2005, claiming that he was mentally retarded after a federal ruling was issued, which barred execution of the mentally retarded, Bingham said.
"Lewis argued his case before U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith Guthrie, saying he was mentally retarded," Bingham said.
Ms. Hilton expressed some frustration with the appeals process.
"Taxpayers have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars while Rickey Lynn Lewis filed these appeals, which were denied over and over again," she said.
Smith County Assistant District Attorney April Sikes said, "Everyone thinks about the criminal, but we are here for the victim."
She added that the verdicts of two juries would finally be upheld.