Lisa Lebis in Clayton County Superior Court Tuesday afternoon. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
JONESBORO —A juror has been replaced on the panel that began deliberating the fate of a McDonough woman Monday.
Lisa Lebis, 41, is charged with murder in the December 2012 shooting death of Clayton County police Officer Sean Callahan although it was her husband, Tremaine Lebis, who pulled the trigger.
Officer Waymando Brown returned fire, killing Lebis, 41. Callahan, 24, of Kennesaw died 14 hours later from internal injuries. Callahan would have turned 26 tomorrow.
Jurors deliberated more than 10 hours over Monday and Tuesday without reaching a verdict. They had four questions for Judge Albert Collier during the day Tuesday, including what they should do if they can’t reach a decision on some of the charges.
“You should continue deliberating,” said Collier.
During a discussion on one of the questions, defense attorney Kenneth Ellis made a motion for a mistrial. Collier denied the motion.
Callahan’s mother, Darlene Rogers, has attended every day of the trial, which started with jury selection Feb. 3. However, when snow fell in spots around Atlanta Tuesday morning, it didn’t look like Rogers and other relatives would be able to make it to the courthouse.
Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson got permission to set up Face Time if a verdict was announced Tuesday so the family could hear it. But Rogers made it to the courthouse just after 1 p.m.
“We had snow but as it warmed up, it melted so we came down,” she said.
Rogers and her husband, John Rogers, were joined by other supporters as they waited for the verdict. They were sitting in the courtroom when Ellis sent Lawson a note offering a guilty plea from Lebis in exchange for 15 years in prison. Lawson declined.
Before the trial, Ellis turned down an offer from Lawson for Lebis to plead to all charges except murder in exchange for 25 years in prison. Because Lebis has four prior felony convictions, sentences for any subsequent felony convictions must be served without parole, according to Georgia’s “three strikes” law.
About 5 p.m., Collier brought the jurors in to give them options on how to proceed in light of expected worsening weather. The foreman said they wanted to take a 10-minute break and deliberate until 7 p.m. By that time, an announcement had been made to close the courthouse Wednesday and Thursday.
At 6:50 p.m., with still no verdict, jurors sent out a note that one of the panel couldn’t return Friday because of an exam at Clayton State University. However, the juror wasn’t clear on the specifics such as what time the test would be given or how long it would take.
“I haven’t been to class for two weeks, because of weather and now this trial,” he said. “I haven’t been able to get in touch with my professor.” He did say the professor had told him he wouldn’t be allowed to take the exam any other day except Friday.
Lawson asked that the juror be replaced by an alternate.
“I think because of the uncertainty of the time, the best thing to do to reach a verdict is to remove the juror for cause and substitute an alternate,” she said, “even though they are going to have to start all over again.”
Ellis agreed. Collier excused the juror for cause and replaced him with a female juror.
“Don’t talk to anyone about deliberations until after you’ve heard a verdict has been reached in this case,” said Collier.
The two attorneys then debated with Collier on finding out where the jurors are on the 16 charges.
“If they are down to one or two counts, we’d probably dismiss them, if (Ellis) wants to,” said Lawson.
However, Collier’s replacement of the juror made the point moot because deliberations have to start fresh Friday at 9 a.m. with the alternate. Any decisions already made must be reconsidered with the new juror.
The shooting happened at Motel 6 in Stockbridge Dec. 17, 2012. The couple had been staying in Room 226 for eight days when they ran out of money and were asked to leave, according to witnesses. Motel workers said Lisa Lebis got angry and cursed at them inside the lobby office so they called 911. Brown and Callahan responded, discovered damage to the motel room and decided to arrest the pair.
The two, however, had other plans, Lawson asserted during her closing argument. Convicted felon Tremaine Lebis was wanted on a parole violation at the time of the shooting. Lawson told jurors he and his wife had agreed on an escape plan if police came looking for him.
When Brown and Callahan tried to take him into custody, Tremaine Lebis decided to put that plan into action, she said. Lawson said he intended to run into a nearby 500-mobile home park where he would wait for his wife to meet him. They would then call her adult son, Michael Davis, to pick them up and continue hiding from police.
Lebis led the men around the back of Building 500 and down a 3.3-feet wide path bordered by a wall and embankment. Midway down the path, Lebis reached into a fanny pack he’d concealed under his clothes and pulled out a modified handgun, got on one knee and began firing at Callahan, who was between Lebis and Brown.
Callahan was able to squeeze off four rounds before he was hit once in the neck and fell over the embankment. Brown nearly emptied his 15-round magazine firing at Lebis, who died at the scene.
Lisa Lebis is charged with felony murder as a party to the crime. Lawson said she knew her husband was carrying a concealed weapon and failed to warn police. Lebis is also accused of hindering Brown’s efforts to render first aid to Callahan. When other officers arrived after the shooting, Lisa Lebis reportedly kicked Investigator Josh Waites in the chest and failed to obey orders from other officers.