by JENN WOOD
The phone rang shortly before midnight on January 16, 2019 – startling Leigh Ann Kellam out of her sleep. When she answered the phone, she heard the voice of her mother – Terry Lewis – screaming hysterically. Terry implored her daughter to come pick her up immediately from the home where she was staying with her husband – a home he recently inherited located off of Can City Road in Walterboro. Terry told Leigh Ann if she didn’t hurry, “he’s going to kill me.” “He” being Terry’s husband, Craig Lewis. During the call, Terry told her daughter that Craig had beaten her with the butt of a gun and taken her purse, keys, and car. Before they ended the call, Terry told Leigh Ann her husband was holding a gun at her and telling her to get out.
Leigh Ann immediately got into her car and rushed to help her mother. When she arrived at the home, she watched helplessly as Craig slammed her mom’s hand repeatedly in the door as she tried to re-enter the home to retrieve her keys. Craig finally opened the door and pushed Terry down the steps. Leigh Ann said after the door was opened, she could see inside the residence – noting there was debris spread all over the home.
It was obvious to her that there had been a violent fight prior to her arrival.
Leigh Ann took her mom to another home that Terry and Craig shared together and pleaded with her to report the abuse to the police. Terry Lewis refused to file a report, however.
After a long discussion with her mom, Leigh Ann finally convinced Terry it was time to leave her abusive husband and reclaim her life. Since Lewis had refused to allow his wife to take her purse prior to leaving the house, Leigh Ann loaned her mom some cash and gave her a cell phone to use before heading to her own home – hopeful her mother was finally leaving Terry for good.
The next day, January 17, 2019, Leigh Ann received several mysterious calls from the phone she left with her mom. Leigh Ann remembers chuckling about it, thinking her mom couldn’t figure out how to use the iPhone she gave her. Around 1:00 p.m. EST, Craig Lewis called Leigh Ann on the device – saying her mom had been hurt and she needed to come home. When Leigh Ann pressed Craig for details, she was told that Terry had been burned and was in the emergency room in Colleton County. She left work immediately but assumed Terry’s injuries were minor as Craig gave no indication otherwise.
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During her drive to the hospital, Craig Lewis called her numerous times. During one call, Craig admitted to Leigh Ann her mother was injured very severely. He stated that Terry was trying to build a fire in their wood stove and “the lighter fluid blew back and burned her badly.” He called one last time to instruct Leigh Ann to hurry as they were considering flying her to a hospital in Atlanta due to the severity of her injuries.
After a drive that Leigh Ann said felt like an eternity, she finally arrived at the Colleton County emergency room to find that her mom had already been sedated and intubated due to breathing issues. Her beautiful mother was barely recognizable and her mother’s husband, Craig, was sitting in the corner of her room. She immediately noticed how clean he was – with not a speck of ash, soot or dirt anywhere on him.
Leigh Ann recalled how he remained largely silent, saying only, “What am I going to do?”
Leigh Ann also noticed the injuries on her mother seemed inconsistent with the story Craig had given her. She quietly stepped out of the room and walked over to the nurses’ station – asking the nurse on duty if she thought the story of what happened to her mother matched her injuries. When the nurse replied that they had no reason to think otherwise, Leigh Ann thanked her and told her she was only curious because the burns on her mother seemed to be limited to the front of her body and that she knew Terry and Craig had had a violent fight the night before this incident. Shocked, the nurse told Leigh Ann that she was obligated to notify law enforcement based on the information Leigh Ann had just provided to her.
THE INVESTIGATION …
When police officers arrived a few minutes later, they spoke with Leigh Ann and the nurses caring for her mother. When they attempted to interview Craig Lewis, he was nowhere to be found.
Officers eventually located him at the home where the incident occurred. Upon their arrival, Lewis was hosing down the driveway/ carport. A couch had been removed from the residence and was nowhere to be found. Officers began questioning Lewis about the circumstances which led to his wife’s injuries. At this point, Lewis attempted to leave the premises and attacked three deputies before being taken into custody. According to reporters at WCSC TV-5 , the deputies “suffered a shoulder injury, another a sprained wrist and a third a cut hand.”
Investigators soon learned the missing couch had been taken to an undisclosed location. Lewis also changed the clothes his wife was wearing when she was burned prior to taking her to the hospital – garments which were also missing. The inside of the house showed indications of another violent encounter. Leigh Ann said there was broken glass everywhere from a china cabinet, an overturned and broken coffee table and burn spots in the hardwood floor.
After a considerable amount of time the missing couch was located. The cushions to the couch and Terry’s clothes were also located in different locations. At some point after he took his wife to the hospital for treatment – but before the police arrived to question him – Lewis appears to have taken the time to hide these critical pieces of evidence.
Lewis was charged on January 31, 2019 with first degree arson and domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature. He retained prominent local attorney and state senator Margie Bright Matthews as his defense attorney. On February 1, 2019, a Colleton County Magistrate denied bond and ordered Lewis be held in the Colleton County jail.
On February 6, 2019, one count of attempted murder and several counts of resisting arrest resulting in injury of officers were added to the charges Craig Lewis was facing.
Lewis’ bond hearing was scheduled on February 19, 2019 at the Colleton County courthouse in front of S.C. circuit court judge Carmen Mullen. Leigh Ann attended the hearing on behalf of her mother and recalled watching Mullen and Matthews “joking and laughing hysterically” prior to the hearing. She remembered thinking it “seemed as though the two were best friends,” but her focus wasn’t on them – it was on ensuring the man who had almost killed her mother stayed behind bars.
Before being arrested for assaulting her mother, Craig Lewis had many prior run-ins with the legal system. Numerous charges and convictions led up to this heinous crime. With his criminal history, no real ties to the community and plenty of available cash, Leigh Ann felt confident the court would keep him where she felt he belonged – in jail. When Mullen decided instead to grant him a $100,000 surety bond – along with “ankle monitoring” – her jaw dropped.
Craig Lewis was about to be a free man while her mother – who he allegedly tried to burn alive – was fighting for her life. Leigh Ann and her children were confused, frightened and horrified. Shortly after his release on bond, the nurses at the burn unit in Atlanta where Terry Lewis was sent for specialized treatment hung a picture of Craig Lewis in the unit to ensure everyone knew who he was – and that he was not to be allowed anywhere near her.
A week later, on February 26, 2019, Craig Lewis posted bond using Benji’s Bail Bonding in Walterboro.
A MURDER CASE …
Terry Lewis suffered third degree burns on about 38 percent of her body. Doctors told her family they were unsure if she would make it through the first 48 hours and that her burns were so severe that even if she survived, she would require at least a year of rehab and would likely never be 100 percent independent again. Leigh Ann knew that even if Terry survived the first 48 hours, she had a long and arduous recovery ahead of her.
In addition to focusing on her mother’s recovery, Leigh Ann had another legal battle to face. Despite being charged with the assault that caused her mother’s life threatening injuries, Craig Lewis remained her legal guardian and conservator. Which meant he was the person in charge of making all medical and financial decisions on Terry’s behalf. Through his attorney, he fought to retain those rights in court. Leigh Ann waged a fierce court battle costing her almost $10,000 to ensure that the man who nearly killed her mother was not in charge of her finances and medical decisions. This would not be the last battle Leigh Ann faced in court related to her mother’s finances.
Terry Lewis’ grandchildren were the light of her life. She called them her babies and they called her “Ninny.” When Leigh Ann’s now 15-year-old daughter, Addison, was a toddler, Terry would pick her up and take her to the store to buy diapers for her dolls. The two were inseparable and Leigh Ann says they were so similar in looks and personality she referred to them as clones. As her burns began to heal on her face, the nurses said they could see how much Addison and her looked alike.
Addison (below) was insistent on visiting Terry as she recovered in Atlanta, Augusta and Charleston. Though only 11 years old at the time, she had a strong personality and insisted on being there to comfort her grandmother. Leigh Ann remembers that even on her worst days when she didn’t seem aware of her surroundings, the sound of the kids’ voices – her “babies” – always got Terry to open her eyes and smile.
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During the latter half of 2019, Terry’s recovery continued – albeit with numerous setbacks and scares. She dealt with respiratory issues, temperature spikes, infections and fluctuating oxygen levels. When they were finally able to begin the process of slowly lifting her sedation, Leigh Ann said her mom began experiencing terrifying visions – screaming, “die bitch die” over and over again. After what felt like an eternity to Leigh Ann, Terry’s sedation was fully lifted and she finally was able to detail what happened to her the night she was burned.
At that point, a detective was brought in to take a recorded statement. Leigh Ann was asked to leave the room to avoid any conflicts and Terry was taken off of any medication that might impair her judgment. Leigh Ann sat outside the room while a close friend sat with Terry as she told the investigator the graphic details of the night she was burned.
Leigh Ann shared the story Terry told the officers that day with FITSNews. According to her mother, she and Craig Lewis fought that day. Terry told Craig that she was leaving him and he beat her. She persisted despite the abuse she had just sustained and told him she still wanted a divorce. Craig told Terry if “he couldn’t have her he would see to it no one else did either.” He then pushed Terry down and slammed her to the floor and violently raped her. After this alleged assault, Terry managed to get up and was trying to escape from the house when Lewis threw a red rag or shirt that was lit on fire at her. Terry said that she quickly slung it to the floor, but Lewis kept placing it back on her until she caught fire. Terry said that she fell down and stepped on her hand, crushing it while she burned and told her to “die bitch die.”
After Terry detailed the incident to investigators, third degree sexual assault charges were added. The charges went before the grand jury and Craig Lewis was indicted on all counts. As with anyone accused of committing any crime, Lewis is considered innocent until proven guilty by our criminal justice system – or until such time as he may wish to enter some form of allocution in connection with a plea agreement with prosecutors related to any of the charges filed against him.
As her recovery continued, Terry was sent to a skilled nursing facility in Charleston. According to Leigh Ann, with help she could take a few steps and (very messily) feed herself. But Terry hated looking at herself in the mirror and was living every day in fear. She told Leigh Ann that she knew Lewis would never go to jail – and that he would come back to finish the job. Though she could no longer remember all of the details of that horrible night, she could still remember the burning red fabric being thrown at her repeatedly and him telling her if he couldn’t have her no one would.
Terry began to rapidly decline in August and September of 2019 and her condition worsened in October. Leigh Ann recalls she had several days of lucidity where “we could talk like nothing ever happened.” Terry still couldn’t walk, stand or even turn over in bed by herself. Sometimes she couldn’t even feed herself. She began refusing medications, food and liquid. She was declining quickly and Leigh Ann said she made the heartbreaking decision to accept her mother’s decision. No feeding tubes, no more intervention – the goal was just to keep her happy during her final days.
Terry passed away just days later on November 1, 2019 from pneumonia and complications from her burns. Her death was listed as homicide.
A PLOT TWIST …
On December 23, 2019, a motion was filed in Colleton County probate court on behalf of Terry Lewis requesting a special administrator be appointed due to the fact that there were pending criminal charges against one of the heirs of the estate. This is often done when a spouse is facing criminal charges against another spouse. In this case, it was filed to ensure that Lewis was not financially benefiting from the estate of the woman he stood accused of brutally murdering. This motion was approved via a court order from former Colleton County probate judge Ashley Almundson.
On March 12, 2020, a Colleton County grand jury indicted Craig Lewis with first degree murder in addition to the other charges he was facing. He once again stood before Mullen – with senator Matthews once again standing at his side. Despite the severity of the new charges he was facing, Lewis walked into the courtroom of his own volition. More shockingly to Leigh Ann, he walked out of the courtroom a free man (again) with Mullen refusing to modify the terms of his bond.
Leigh Ann was shocked. After Craig Lewis allegedly beat, raped and set her mother on fire – actions that ultimately caused Terry’s death, according to prosectors – Leigh Ann watched him go free a second time.
If you are a regular member of our audience, at this point in the story you are probably thinking this is just another in a long line of tragic tales tied to South Carolina’s failed “injustice” system. And why not? All the ingredients are here: A powerful lawyer-legislator, a judge with a history of cozy corruption and a controversial decision regarding a violent defendant that clearly ran counter to the interests of justice.
If you are a regular member of our audience, you also know decisions like this are why public safety in South Carolina is eroding, why victims are being re-victimized and why faith in our judicial branch is evaporating.
But this story has an even more insidious plot twist to it …
The same day Craig Lewis was charged with murder, senator Matthews – the lawyer-legislator representing him – extended a mortgage to him on 273 Wade Hampton Avenue, the location of the attack against his late wife and a residence he co-owned with her.
Eight months later, on November 19, 2020, all the parties to this case found themselves back in court to discuss the sale of the home – and to agree upon some additional final details. All parties to the case agreed the home should be sold, and a September 25, 2020 appraisal by Travis Avant of Compass South valued the property at $95,000. According to this appraisal, the property’s value had declined due to damage caused by the home being unoccupied following Craig’s incarceration and Terry’s death.
During the November hearing, Leigh Ann was given two weeks to remove sentimental items from the property with a deadline of December 4, 2020. On December 5, 2020, Craig Lewis would have access to the property for thirty days. During this time, Lewis was expected to remove any personal property he wished to keep – and would assume responsibility for cleaning out the residence and getting it ready to be sold.
A surprise motion amending this agreement was filed by Shirrese Brockington – special administrator assigned to this case on November 24, 2020. In this order (.pdf), Brockington stated Craig Lewis had executed a mortgage in favor of his attorney Margie Bright Matthews in the amount of $135,000 on March 12, 2020 (again, the same day he was indicted for murder). This loan was ostensibly tied to his need for financial resources to pay for his legal defense in relation to the death of his wife.
Brockington filed the motion to ensure that in the event the property sold, the fifty percent belonging to the estate of Terry Lewis was not used to satisfy any mortgage extended by senator Matthews.
The bigger questions? Why is Matthews involved in any of these financial transactions to begin with? Why is she extending a mortgage to a client she represents in any capacity – let alone a murder case?
South Carolina’s rules of professional conduct explicitly state “a lawyer shall not provide financial assistance to a client in connection with pending or contemplated litigation.” As with everything in the Palmetto State, though, there are exceptions to this rule.
A lawyer shall not enter into a business transaction with a client or knowingly acquire an ownership, possessory, security or other pecuniary interest adverse to a client unless: (1) the transaction and terms on which the lawyer acquires the interest are fair and reasonable to the client and are fully disclosed and transmitted in writing in a manner that can be reasonably understood by the client; (2) the client is advised in writing of the desirability of seeking and is given a reasonable opportunity to seek the advice of independent legal counsel on the transaction; and (3) the client gives informed consent, in a writing signed by the client, to the essential terms of the transaction and the lawyer’s role in the transaction, including whether the lawyer is representing the client in the transaction.S.C. Rules of Professional Conduct 1.8(a)
That’s a lot of fine print, to be sure, but our news team consulted with a number of Palmetto State attorneys – all of whom stated they did not believe such an arrangement was allowable under the rules of professional conduct.
The other issue with this mortgage is that upon her death, the estate of Terry Lewis was assigned to probate court. While Craig Lewis was entitled to 50 percent of the property – the other 50 percent belonged to Terry’s estate under the authority of the assigned special administrator. The administrator did not approve the mortgage transaction.
On July 9, 2021 – nearly two years after Terry’s death – an individual named David M. Smalls formed a company called 273 Wade Hampton Ave LLC. According to Smalls’ profile on LinkedIn, he served as Matthews’ campaign manager from 2015-2017. That same day, a deed was signed transferring this property to 273 Wade Hampton Ave LLC in exchange for $80,000 made payable to Craig Lewis and the estate of Terry Lewis.
This deed transfer was registered by the Colleton County clerk in the register of deeds on July 12, 2021.
On the same day Smalls created 273 Wade Hampton Ave LLC and purchased this property, another business entity named Athena Services LLC was formed by Patrick Matthews – Margie Bright Matthews’ husband. Also on July 9, 2021, ownership of the property was transferred from Smalls’ company to Athena Services LLC for $5,000 – or $75,000 less than the purchase price.
Despite all these transactions occurring on July 9, 2021, the deed transfer to Athena Services LLC was not recorded in the Colleton County register of deeds until nearly three months later (on October 7, 2021).
As of this writing, the property in question is still owned by Athena Services LLC and was recently listed for sale at $285,000. It has undergone significant renovations in the seventeen months since it changed ownership – meaning Craig Lewis’ attorney (and her husband) stand to make a substantial profit off of a property where their client allegedly beat Terry Lewis before lighting her on fire.
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Exhausted, frustrated and completely disheartened by ongoing legal delays in attempts to schedule the trial of her mother’s alleged murderer, Leigh Ann Kellam recently posted her story to Facebook. In doing so, she pleaded with the public to take notice of the nearly four-year ordeal her family has been through. Craig Lewis’ case is now among the oldest open cases in the S.C. fourteenth judicial circuit – part of the Palmetto State which has come under significant scrutiny due to the ‘Murdaugh Murders’ crime and corruption saga.
Last week, she received a call that yet another bond modification hearing had been scheduled for Friday, December 16, 2022 at 9:00 a.m. EST. Craig Lewis’ attorneys filed yet another request to modify his bond – asking a judge to remove his ankle monitor and lift his house arrest.
That hearing was delayed and will be rescheduled in January – once again putting Leigh Ann’s life on hold.
Nearly four years after receiving the phone call that forever changed her life, Leigh Ann Kellam is still waiting for a trial date to be scheduled. While she waits, she is being asked to repeatedly return to court to argue against the ongoing loosening of restrictions on her mother’s alleged murderer.
“It is hard to find closure and for your family to move on when you have this trial with no end or even a beginning in sight,” she told FITSNews.
“Accused have rights such as a right to a speedy trial, shouldn’t victims be allowed that same right?” she added. “Our family represents the victim and we don’t have the right to a speedy trial or even a trial in a reasonable time frame. The accused is benefiting because he paid for an attorney who represents our state some days therefore she is protected by the state and can delay court dates on the days she is fighting against the state. It doesn’t make sense.”
Count on this news outlet to continue following this case – and others like it across South Carolina which expose the systemic injustice that permeates the state’s courtrooms.
In the process, count on FITSNews to bring members of our audience every intelligent perspective we receive in response to our coverage – including the perspectives of senator Matthews and others whose conduct or judgment is called into question.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Jenn Wood is the director of research at FITSNews. She is also a producer on our Cheer Incorporated podcast and our resident expert on the ‘Murdaugh Murders‘ crime and corruption saga. Wood is a wife and mother of two residing in Louisiana, but she will be in the Palmetto State for the duration of the upcoming double homicide trial.