Attorney Says UTC Student Who Sold Drugs Was Shot Accidentally By His Friend

  • Friday, April 12, 2024
  • Hannah Campbell
Terrence Lewis
Terrence Lewis

A defense attorney told a Criminal Court jury on Friday that a former UTC student killed during a drug deal was shot accidentally by his friend rather than the man accused.

Terrence Dewayne Lewis is standing trial for first-degree murder and robbery in the courtroom of Judge Barry Steelman in the death of Evan “Thad” Derry during a marijuana deal on Dec. 28, 2017. Lewis is pleading not guilty to both charges.

Lewis is already serving a life sentence for the December 2020 murder of Randy Williams, and he has been accused of a third murder, that of Pierre Casseus in November 2021.

Defense attorney Josh Weiss told jurors in an opening statement that Lewis had no reason to kill Derry, a drug dealer who was selling regularly to Lewis in a scheme that was profitable to all, he said.

“This was not a robbery, this was a shooting, and Terrence Lewis was the target,” attorney Weiss told the jury panel.

The attorney said that Derry’s friend Baxter McCurry fired the shots and accidentally killed his friend.

“The person that shot the gun was actually Baxter McCurry,” he said. “Terrence Lewis killed no one.”

McCurry passed away in a motorcycle accident in August 2023.

Attorney Weiss said that gunshot residue was not tested and that key information surrounding a gun recovered in 2019 was withheld from the case for years.

“I doubt we’ll know what the truth is,” attorney Weiss said, but “you’re going to doubt everything,” he said to the jury.

State prosecutor Jason Demastus told the jury that Lewis intended to steal 16 pounds of marijuana from Derry and McCurry that night, and that records show that Lewis chose the time, place and product to his advantage, and then pepper sprayed the Tahoe.

“(Lewis) was there to commit a robbery,” he said, and that Derry was killed in order to complete the robbery.

Friday morning’s witness Brandy Hutchinson contradicted a signed police statement she made the night of the killing, and also court testimony she gave when Lewis was charged in August 2018. When pressed by the state prosecutor, she stuck to her new story.

Ms. Hutchinson lived in an apartment complex on North Bishop Road where the shooting took place. She heard the shots, left her home to check on her children, and watched Derry’s black Chevy Tahoe crash into a ditch.

Ms. Hutchinson had told police in a signed statement the night of the incident that she saw a tall black man with a black covering over his head running toward the Tahoe and firing two guns.

In court Friday she said the running man had no weapons.

“I didn’t see a weapon,” she said. “I understood him to have a weapon at the time, but I didn’t see one,” though she did hear shots, she said.

She told the court Friday that she saw the running man stop and take something out of Derry’s Tahoe, though in 2018 she had said the man didn’t take anything from the car.

“He looked in, he grabbed something out the back seat, and he left,” Ms. Hutchinson said Friday.

The state prosecutor asked why she would say in 2018 that she did not see him take anything from the car.

“Maybe I was scared. I don’t know,” she said. “I do remember this man reaching in that car and pulling something out,” she said.

Police had found that the 16 pounds of marijuana indicated in texts setting up the deal was missing from Derry’s car.

In his opening statement to the jury, attorney Weiss accused Chattanooga Police Department Investigator Daryl Slaughter of handling parts of the investigation with “kid gloves.”

“I think he missed the mark on this case,” Mr. Weiss said. “He became biased.”

He also accused the state of withholding key information about a gun recovered in 2019 and linked to Derry’s killing, which attorneys only learned about six months ago, he said.

“The government sat on this for four years,” he said.

“I think that the way this case was investigated wasn’t fair,” attorney Weiss said. He told the jury that gunshot residue was not tested and that the two witnesses’ conflicting stories could have been verified by now.

The first officer on the scene found Derry's wrecked vehicle on the side of the road near where the drug deal was to have gone down. His head was out the window and blood was streaming down the side of his car.

A visibly emotional McCurry told police that he was not with Derry the night of the slaying, but had a meal with him at Cookout on Brainerd Road around 4 p.m. He said they then smoked a joint together, then Derry let him out.

McCurry said that night he and his sister went to their father's house to celebrate Christmas.

He said Derry, who was from Franklin, Tn., originally, was "a pretty heavy dealer," making trips to Nashville and returning with 50-60 pounds of marijuana at a time. He said in the interview that was played for the jury, "He sold to a lot of people, but he was usually pretty careful. That's the irony of this."

McCurry said he had met "Terrence" one time, and that Derry sold marijuana to him.

McCurry afterward admitted to police that he was with Derry for the meeting with "Terrence." He said he was in the back seat of Derry's car when Terrence started firing, and he said he ran away from the scene.

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