HOUGHTON - A Houghton County Circuit Court jury resumed deliberations this morning in the case of a Dollar Bay man accused of the Oct. 11, 2011, break-in at a Miners State Bank ATM in South Range.
The jury deliberated for an hour and a half Tuesday afternoon in the case of Gordon Lewis, 21, before being excused for the day.
Lewis is charged with safebreaking, a felony punishable by up to life in prison. A lesser offense of attempted safebreaking, a five-year felony, was dismissed Tuesday. A trial on other charges related to an alleged larceny at Michigan Technological University's Student Development Complex is still pending.
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Gordon Lewis of Dollar Bay testifies in his defense on the second day of his trial for safebreaking in Houghton County Circuit Court Tuesday. Lewis said he was never part of any effort to break into the ATM at Miners State Bank in South Range.
Paden Rothenberger was sentenced to a year in jail in March for his involvement in the incident, which ended after he was unable to open the inner chamber of the ATM. He said Tuesday the crime was done not just with Lewis, but for the purpose of getting a better lawyer for a charge Lewis was facing. But Lewis said Tuesday he was never part of the plan.
Jailhouse conversations Lewis had with his high school special education teacher were played for the jury Tuesday morning. Conversations with his wife took place after he had read the police report in his case.
Among other things, he urged his wife to take another drill, label it "Rothenberger" and leave it for investigators to find. He also told her to cut up his own jeans and plant it as evidence.
Lewis said the requests were a misguided attempt to get back at Rothenberger for telling lies about him.
"I didn't think it would rectify the situation - maybe make it go away," he said.
Rothenberger had said Lewis' vehicle was used as transport for the safebreaking. Lewis said it was up on blocks for brake work during the time in question, as did another witness with whom Lewis was romantically involved.
"It wasn't in drivable condition," Lewis said.
Lewis said he had been in a good financial situation before the ATM break-in attempt, with more than $7,000 in his bank account. Lewis said Rothenberger had asked him for $900 shortly before the Oct. 3 attempt; he denied the request. Lewis said the last time he saw Rothenberger until they wound up in jail together was on Oct. 15, when Rothenberger again asked him for $900.
"I told him to get off my porch and leave me the heck alone," Lewis said.
Also testifying in court Tuesday was Cody Riutta, a Houghton County inmate with Rothenberger, who said Rothenberger told him he had lied out of malice toward Lewis.
"He had said that if Gordon would stop talking trash about him that he would tell the truth when it came to his trial, but that if (Lewis) continued to talk trash, he was going to do whatever he could to make sure that they gave him as much time as they could," he said.
Much of the trial hinged on footage from the bank security camera showing an unidentified figure alongside Rothenberger with torn jeans, a black hooded sweatshirt and grey shoes. Clothes fitting the description and matching smaller details - the tear in the jeans, and the lighter inner hood and red logo on the sweatshirt - were found in Lewis' home. But only the shoes were his, Lewis said; the rest belonged to a friend of his staying at his house.
Lewis tried on the pants Tuesday, which were 32-34 instead of the 30-30 he now wears. While he had recently dropped 30 pounds, he said he would not have worn pants that long.
His attorney, David Gemigani, also pointed to the absence of video evidence for things such as a tear on the back of the jeans.
The day of the attempt to break into the ATM, Lewis had purchased a drill from Menard's in Marquette; he said Tuesday it was meant as an anniversary present for his wife.
Prosecuting Attorney Michael Makinen called Daniel Belanger, assistant general manager of Menard's, who identified the items purchased the day before the incident as a cordless Bosch drill and a half-inch drill bit; a cutting torch was also purchased at a later date.
But the half-inch drill bit couldn't have worked on the ATM, which required a 5/32-inch drill bit, Gemignani said.
In his closing arguments, Makinen seized on a comment Lewis made to his wife in the second call while trying to persuade her: "Trust me on this."
"Think about that," he said. "Here is a man who is willing to risk his wife, willing to turn her into a felon, saying 'Trust me on this,'" he said. "In reality, that is exactly what Mr. Lewis is saying to you on the jury: 'Trust me on this.'"
Makinen also rejected the notion that Rothenberger had lied for his own sake, saying that he had given details of his other crimes before a plea bargain was even discussed.
"These statements were all given with waivers of his Miranda rights without any consideration coming to him for making those statements," he said. "In essence, he 'fessed up."
Gemignani questioned whether the details on the video matched up to what the jurors had seen in court, showing them stills from the footage.
"You can see the pants ride high on the shoes ... the pants don't go below the heel, where they naturally sit," he said.
Gemignani wasn't shy about criticizing Lewis's jailhouse calls ("He should be ashamed of himself"). Still, he said, it was an understandable, if dumbfounding, reaction to being set up.
"He didn't know what to do, he didn't know how to react, he felt trapped, he felt, 'Someone's lying against me, what do I do?' ... in some way, that made sense to him, which made no sense to us," he said.
After instructions, the jury began deliberating around 3:10 p.m. Tuesday. They continued for an hour and a half before asking the judge to be excused for the day.
Deliberations resumed at 8:30 a.m. this morning.