By George Anastasia
Defense attorneys spent several hours today painting a picture of Lamont Lewis as a cold, calculating murderer who usually carried a gun and was never afraid to use it.
Lewis, 37, didn't dispute the portrayal. In fact, he often added to the picture.
Discussing the killing of a rival who lay paralyzed outside his North Philadelphia bar, Lewis was asked if he hadn't told an associate "to kick his fucking ass."
"Yes sir," Lewis replied, adding that his associate "actually kicked him in the face two times."
Over the course of two days on the witness stand in the racketeering murder trial of Kaboni Savage and three co-defendants, Lewis has admitted to all manner of murder and mayhem. He has provided details about nearly a dozen shootings in which he was involved; he has admitted to being a contract killer; he has conceded that he used his then 13-year-old son to help arrange to have drugs sent to him when he was serving a time in a city jail, and he has described himself as an "alcoholic" who would spend all day drinking in a bar.
But none of that, Lewis said quietly and repeatedly during lengthy and pointed cross-examination, changes the story he has told from the witness stand.
"I'm just in a messed up situation," said the linebacker thick, tattooed assassin who became a government witness in 2011, turning on his friends and underworld associates and putting the lie to the tattoo he has scrawled across his stomach. "Ride or Die" it reads, his commitment to "ride" out any charges rather than "die" and become a government snitch.
"I wasn't the best father," Lewis said at another point. "I'm not denying any of this."
But he said he has agreed to "tell the truth" and sees that as a way to fulfill "an obligation to the victims and their families."
While not specifying which victims -- there in fact have been more than a dozen -- it appeared Lewis was referring to the two women and four children killed when he firebombed a North Philadelphia row house on Oct. 9, 2004.
The six people who died in that blaze are among the 12 homicide victims listed in the case against Savage and three co-defendants. The trial, now in its ninth week, will resume tomorrow with Lewis still on the stand.
The firebombing is the centerpiece of the case against Savage, 38, a North Philadelphia cocaine kingpin who authorities say used intimidation and murder to control his drug network and eliminate witness.
Lewis has testified that he and his cousin Robert Merritt, a co-defendant in the case, firebombed the house on Savage's orders in an attempt to intimidate and silence Eugene Coleman, a drug dealing associate who in 2004 had become a government witness.
Coleman's mother, his 15-month-old son and four other family members, including three children, were killed in that blaze.
While defense attorneys spent most of today peppering Lewis with questions about a half dozen other murders and shootings he had admitted to, they moved gingerly around the arson. The event is the legal equivalent of the 500-pound gorilla in the courtroom.
Whatever else Lewis admits to and however cold and calculating he may appear, his story of the firebombing remains critical to the case against Savage, Merritt and Savage's sister, Kidada, who Lewis said helped plan it.
The defense is hard pressed to offer any other explanation for why Lewis would firebomb the house or why he would implicate himself and his cousin in the brutal killings. Lewis testified earlier that neither he nor Merritt knew children were in the home at the time.
Lewis, under a plea deal, will face a sentence of 40 years to life.
For nearly four hours today he answered questions posed by Savage's attorney, William Purpura.
"Yes sir," he would say.
Or "no sir."
Or, "that would be correct."
He admitted that his testimony in the trial sometimes conflicted with earlier statements he had given to authorities or with his testimony before a grand jury. But he explained the discrepancies away by claiming he had made "mistakes."
"I make mistakes," he said in response to a line of questions from William Spade, Merritt's attorney, that began late in the day. "Believe it or not, I'm human."
Cold, calculating and, when he was in the drug underworld, deadly. That's the picture of Lamont Lewis that has been presented during two days of testimony.
He will be back on the stand tomorrow and perhaps Thursday as well. When he finally steps down, there will be no dispute about his role as a murderer and contract killer. The only question for the jury will be whether he was believable.
George Anastasia can be contacted at George@bigtrial.net