A Lincoln man will spend most of his life in prison after he was sentenced Tuesday afternoon in connection to a 2018 Sedalia murder.
A Pettis County jury found 29-year-old Justin K. Lewis guilty of second-degree murder, armed criminal action and unlawful use of a weapon at the conclusion of a two-day trial in April. The charges stem from the Jan. 14, 2018, stabbing death of 33-year-old Heather M. McClellan.
On Tuesday, Lewis was sentenced by Judge Robert Koffman to 30 years, 30 years and seven years on each count, respectively, to be served consecutively in the Missouri Department of Corrections.
Sedalia Police officers responded to an apartment in the 400 block of East Seventh Street for a report of a disturbance with a weapon the night of Jan. 14, 2018. During his testimony, Officer Bradley Arnold said he found McClellan laying on the floor in a blood-soaked sweatshirt, gasping for air. Pettis County Ambulance District paramedics arrived and took McClellan to Bothwell Regional Health Center where she died from blood loss. According to court documents, she had eight stab wounds and a slit throat.
It’s been more than a year since Carol Green last saw her only child, McClellan, and during her victim impact statement, she said she’s struggled every day since.
“I’ve tried to make sense of something that makes no sense,” she told the court. “I want the court and Justin to know that my life will never be the same. I can’t call her, laugh with her, I can’t tell her I love her.”
Green said her daughter had her young life cut short and that McClellan never hurt anyone.
“I don’t understand why someone would want to hurt her in such a brutal way,” she said. “... I’ll never be the same.”
Pettis County Prosecuting Attorney Phillip Sawyer recommended sentences of life, life and seven years, respectively, to be served consecutively. Sawyer said the lack of information about what led to McClellan’s murder concerns him for the public’s safety if Lewis were to be released.
“I can’t process in my mind how that room went from a happy giggle to ‘no, no, no’ (from McClellan) and the carnage left behind,” he said. “To be clear: I hope to not see a case for the remainder of our careers of such a brutal nature.”
Defense attorneys Scott McGreevy and Austin Knoblock, of Access to Justice law firm in Joplin, argued for a sentence closer to the average of about 25 years for a second-degree murder charge, which they said would still be a “significant punishment.” Sawyer said Lewis’ actions pushed the sentence to the top of the range of punishment for second-degree murder.
Koffman told Lewis, who appeared by video from the Pettis County Jail, that Lewis’ criminal history led him to run the sentences consecutively rather than concurrently.
“Your entire life you have led a criminal career,” Koffman told Lewis. “... You don’t learn by your actions. This record reflects a man that’s dangerous. I’m sitting here thinking of Heather McClellan and I’m trying to understand why you multiply stabbed and cut the throat of an innocent woman, there’s no reason for this. Other than the fact you’re a dangerous felon. You took a life, not in self-defense, and you should forfeit the right to a full and rewarding life as a result.”
Before sentencing began, the court heard a motion for a new trial from the defense. Knoblock questioned a juror, Eric West, about his time in the jury box during Lewis’ trial, asking if his eyes were closed during portions of testimony. West said his eyes were closed at times due to the lights bothering him as he was at the onset of a migraine, but that he was never asleep. He said he continued to listen to all testimony and made sure his eyes were open to see exhibits.
Knoblock argued to the court that West could have missed important information, but Koffman denied the motion, saying when it was offered on day two of the trial to use the alternate juror instead of West, both counsels declined.