ATLANTA (AP) — The wife of a man who shot and killed a Georgia police officer shouldn't be considered guilty of murder "simply because she knew her husband possessed a weapon," her lawyers argue.
Tremaine Lebis fatally shot a police officer at a Motel 6 just south of Atlanta in December 2012 and then was fatally shot by another officer, court documents say. A jury in February 2014 convicted Lebis' wife, Lisa Ann Lebis, of felony murder, among other charges, in the death of Clayton County police Officer Sean Callahan.
Lisa Lebis' lawyers have asked the state Supreme Court to throw out her conviction, noting that she was not even physically present when her husband shot and killed Callahan. Prosecutors used the "party to a crime" statute — which says everyone concerned in the commission of a crime can be charged with that crime — to get a murder conviction.
Lisa and Tremaine Lebis were both convicted felons and had been staying in the Motel 6 in Stockbridge for about a week when they were evicted for late payment. Lisa Lebis yelled and cursed at the clerk when she learned they would have to leave, prompting the clerk to call police, according to court filings.
When Callahan and Officer Waymondo Brown arrived, they spoke to motel staff and concluded they might file charges for criminal damage to property. As they approached the room, they saw the couple removing items from the room and stacking them outside.
After observing the damage to the room — including dog feces on the floor, broken furniture and an overwhelming odor of feces and urine — the officers decided to arrest the pair and began with Tremaine Lebis because they could see he had a pocketknife, court filings say. Lisa Lebis began to shout at them, and Tremaine Lebis was able to break free and run away, prosecutors argue.
As the officers pursued him toward the back of the motel, Tremaine Lebis reached into a fanny pack they hadn't noticed, pulled out a gun and shot Callahan, court filings say. Brown returned fire, hitting Tremaine Lebis, and then went to help Callahan, who had fallen 10 feet over a retaining wall.
As Brown performed CPR on Callahan, Lisa Lebis appeared above him at the retaining wall "going bonkers," he testified. He wasn't sure whether she was armed and stopped doing CPR for about 50 seconds to draw his own weapon until he was able to see her hands and verify that she was unarmed, court filings say.
When backup officers arrived, they forcibly detained Lisa Lebis.
Prosecutors argue that Lisa Lebis knew her husband had an outstanding warrant, that he had a gun in his fanny pack and that he had sworn to her many times that he would never go back to prison. Her screaming distracted the officers, who didn't know if she was armed or preparing to attack them, and helped her husband get away from them, court filings say. She also distracted Brown from his efforts to save Callahan, prosecutors say.
The jury was authorized to find that Lisa Lebis "was a party to a crime or a coconspirator in the crime of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and therefore guilty of the felony murder of Officer Callahan," prosecutors said in a court filing.
Her lawyers contest that, noting that Tremaine Lebis had the gun and Lisa Lebis wasn't even present.
"Boiled down to its essence, the State's argument appears to be because Ms. Lebis was married to her husband and must have known that he was in illegal possession of a firearm, then as a consequence she must" be guilty of something, her lawyers wrote.
Lisa Lebis' lawyers say there's insufficient evidence to support her conviction for murder and a number of other charges, including obstruction of an officer and gun possession. They also claim that her trial attorney was ineffective because he failed to call an expert to rebut a state expert and failed to request that jury selection, opening statements and closing arguments be recorded.
The Georgia Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments in the case Monday.
This story has been corrected to show Tremaine Lebis fatally shot a police officer at a Motel 6 in December 2012, not 2017.