JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office destroyed key evidence in a local case. Action News has learned that a man accused of firing shots and threatening his roommates could walk free because critical evidence in the case is gone.
"My son has been in jail since February 14, and I know he's innocent and it's been very difficult."
Linda Lewis held back tears after seeing her son in a green prison jumpsuit for the first time in the Duval County courthouse Tuesday.
Robert Lewis' Valentine's Day was anything but a loving one. Lewis was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Now, before his trial even started, Lewis' attorney announced a game changer in court saying key evidence in the case is missing.
Attorneys with the Public Defender’s Office went to the JSO evidence room requesting three items for research. Those pieces of evidence included a gun, tent and metal pipe.
“They told us that one of the shotguns and the pipe had been destroyed the week earlier,” said defense attorney Shannon Schott.
Schott says she's frustrated that key pieces of evidence that could potentially free her client just disappeared. She told Judge James Daniel that evidence would show Lewis was brutally attacked before shots were fired.
According to police, Clayton and Jason Harrell lived with Lewis in a Westside container off General Avenue. Police responded to a fight involving guns and a metal pipe. That pipe is now gone. The gun is no longer missing, but the tent Lewis was living in is also missing. Schott told Action News that blood left on the tent was crucial to the case.
"Are you arguing that JSO botched the evidence in this case,” asked Action News reporter Ryan Smith. “We don't know whose fault it was,” said Schott. “We know that evidence was destroyed by JSO but at whose direction, that's the question."
It’s a question prosecutors couldn't answer. The judge says that will prolong the time it will take to settle Lewis' case.
“You are the prosecutor of this case so you need to figure it out what the heck happened,” said Judge Daniel.
We went to JSO for answers, and spokeswoman Melissa Bujeda said, "Evidence involved in this crime was destroyed that includes a metal pipe and tent. A gun was not destroyed in reference to this case. We are investigating how this happened and once we reach a conclusion we will follow up with you with why it occurred."
JSO couldn't tell Action News why the evidence was destroyed, leaving Lewis’ mother with a lot of unanswered questions.
“When you know someone is innocent and they need to be home, they need to be working and going to church and you see them in something like this and it's very difficult,” said Linda Lewis.
Lewis' attorney is asking the judge to dismiss the case. Judge Daniel will schedule a hearing for that on Monday.