Benjamin Bewley is 50 years old and standing trial this week for a murder he is accused of committing when he was a teenager.
Melvin Lavine, the man Bewley is accused of fatally shooting, was a pawnshop owner known for the compassion he showed his customers, Tarrant County prosecutor Pamela Boggess said Tuesday.
Lavine, 61 at the time of his death, was asleep with his wife on March 13, 1983, when someone broke through the glass back door of his house, ripped the phone cord out of the wall, demanded money and then shot him four times. The suspects then took a purse belonging to Lavine’s wife and fled.
“This is a case of a man who took a gun to a home invasion robbery,” said Boggess, who is working with prosecutor Robert Foran on the case.
Never miss a local story.
Bewley’s defense attorneys argued that Bewley, 19 at the time, was not in the house when the fatal shot was fired.
“Bewley was just along for the ride,” said John Stickels, one of Bewley’s attorneys.
Peggy Lavine was incoherent and could not describe the man or men who broke into their residence to rob them, said Cmdr. Bryan Sudan, who was a patrol officer with Fort Worth in 1983. Sudan is now in charge of the Tarrant County Auto Crime Task Force. There was definitely one man in the house, possibly two, Peggy Lavine told Sudan.
“She was very distraught and had a great deal of difficulty telling me what happened,” Sudan said.
Sudan testified that he asked Lavine several times to describe the man who shot him, but never got an answer because Lavine was in too much pain.
“As a young officer, it was one of those things indelibly implanted on your brain,” Sudan said. “It was painful to look at.”
Fort Worth detective Sarah Jane Waters submitted a glass shard for analysis that was gathered in 1983 from the Lavine residence, located in the 2300 block of Colonial Parkway. Waters was later informed that the DNA on the glass shard matched the DNA profile for Bewley, a man being held in the Taylor County jail on suspicion of DWI.
Bethel Zahaie, who also represents Bewley, said during her opening statement that her client and another man named Mark Graham were “hanging out” on the night of the murder when they ran out of drugs. Graham convinced Bewley to come along with him to steal lawn mowers, which they could sell for money, Zahaie said.
Bewley waited in the car while Graham crept into the Lavine’s back yard, Zahaie said. And then Bewley heard glass shattering and went to investigate. Bewley cut himself on a piece of glass on the back door and then heard gunfire, Zahaie said. Bewley ran until he heard Graham’s car pull up and he climbed inside, Zahaie said.
Bewley is sitting in the defendant’s chair because he cut himself on some glass, Zahaie said.
Bewley’s former cellmate in the Taylor County jail, Gary Tilley, testified Tuesday that Bewley told him he believed that he would never be caught.
“I was glad when they moved me,” Tilley told the jury.
Bewley told Tilley that he was the shooter, a revelation that troubled him, Tilley testified.
Bewley “said he was angry he got caught and that he thought they would never catch him,” Tilley said. “He said he and his friend found this pawnshop owner and that they went to his house through the back door and murdered him.”
Tilley testified that he was serving time in jail on theft convictions when he became Bewley’s confidant and is still awaiting trial on pending cases out of Taylor County.
Testimony is expected to continue in the capital murder trial Wednesday in state District Judge Louis Sturns court. If convicted, Bewley faces life in prison.