Tuesday, November 06, 2001

Byrd partner claims he stabbed clerk

John Brewer takes blame for death of Monte Tewksbury

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        DAYTON, Ohio — Eighteen years after John W. Byrd was sentenced to die for murdering a convenience store clerk in a robbery, his partner in the crime testified that he delivered the fatal stab wounds.

        In an unusual proceeding ordered by an appeals court weighing whether to permit Mr. Byrd's execution, a federal magistrate began assembling a record of what happened the night Monte Tewksbury was killed in Colerain Township.

        “The truth is the fact that I did stab Mr. Tewksbury,” John Eastle Brewer told a packed courtroom that included Mr. Byrd, his mother, and Mr. Tewksbury's widow and daughter. “I'm sorry. I know that doesn't make anything any better or differ ent.”

        Mr. Byrd, who was expected to testify for the first time ever in this case, did not take the stand. Magistrate Michael R. Merz announced Mr. Byrd, 37, may not have to answer questions if he's called.

        Attorneys focused most of the day on Mr. Brewer, who has signed two confessions saying he was the one who stabbed Mr. Tewksbury.

        Ohio courts rejected the confessions as unbelievable, but a sharply divided U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ordered Magistrate Merz to hold these hearings to help determine whether Mr. Byrd's appeal should move forward.

        Mr. Brewer told the court he leaped over the store counter and had Mr. Tewksbury by the arm when a bright light from outside dis tracted him. Mr. Brewer said Mr. Tewksbury started struggling with him and that he stabbed the store clerk in a fit of panic.

        “I didn't think he was hurt that serious,” Mr. Brewer said.

        Under questioning by James Canepa, an assistant attorney general, Mr. Brewer admitted he lied to the officers who arrested him, lied when he denied killing Mr. Tewksbury during his own trial and twice lied to prison officials about his involvement in the crime. Mr. Brewer insisted that he is telling the truth now.

        “I came here to come clean,” he said.

        Mr. Brewer also was asked why the confession he offered in January differed from one he gave the state public defender in 1989. The confession was not disclosed until this year, as Mr. Byrd's appeals were running out.

        Mr. Brewer said the passage of time made that April night of 1983 more difficult to recall.

        “I knew there would be dis crepancies because I knew my memory ain't what it used to be,” Mr. Brewer said.

        Prosecutors have said Mr. Brewer is confessing to the actual stabbing as a favor to a friend. Because he was convicted of murder in the slaying and is serving more than 41 years in prison, Mr. Brewer cannot be tried again.

        Two other witnesses, Bennie Fields, a former inmate, and Roger Hall, who is still in prison on charges of murder and bank robbery, said Mr. Brewer told them Mr. Byrd was on death row for a crime he did not commit.

        “He said, "I'm the one who killed that man,'” Mr. Hall said. “He said, "My partner didn't do it.'”

        As he did with Mr. Brewer, Mr. Canepa tried to discredit both witnesses by bringing up their criminal records. At one point, Mr. Canepa asked Mr. Hall about a letter he wrote that asked a fellow inmate to lie on the stand on Mr. Hall's behalf.

        “It looks like my handwriting, all right,” said Mr. Hall, who never admitted to writing the letter. “I wasn't a very good person, but I'm not the one on trial here, sir.”

        There was an exchange involving Mr. Byrd during a break in testimony.

        As bailiffs were leading the shackled death-row inmate back to his defense team, Mr. Byrd cleared his throat and said something that appeared to alarm Mr. Canepa.

        He told Magistrate Merz that Mr. Byrd had said, “You are pitiful.”

        Mr. Byrd's defense team sat silent as Mr. Canepa said he felt Mr. Byrd was trying to intimidate him.

        “It worked,” Mr. Canepa said to Mr. Byrd. “Are you happy?”

        Monday's hearing was the first time Sharon Tewksbury, Mr. Tewksbury's widow, came face to face with her husband's convicted killer.

        “It's very difficult,” Mrs. Tewksbury said of the experience.

        Testimony is scheduled through Friday.


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