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Man accused in 1984 cold case in S.E. Oklahoma has been found guilty of first-degree murder

Ernest Lewis, mugshot from Colorado Department of Corrections

OKLAHOMA CITY – A man accused in a 1984 cold case has been found guilty of first-degree murder.

Johnny Smith was killed on June 28th, 1984 during his shift at the K.C.S. Lumber Company in Idabel.

On the day of the murder, four witnesses said they heard a gunshot and then saw a man erratically driving a front-end loader, which belonged to the lumber company, past them.

Several minutes later, the witnesses told police that the same man drove a truck in the opposite direction and out of the gate of the lumber yard.

Three of those witnesses reportedly identified Ernest Lewis as the man driving both vehicles.

Officials at the lumber company said Lewis left work abruptly after claiming a family emergency shortly before Smith’s body was found.

The probable cause affidavit filed in McCurtain County says blood spatter was collected from a front-end loader bucket and rocks near Smith’s body, during the initial investigation in 1984.

At the time, investigators also collected a bullet casing that matched a gun owned by Lewis’ mother.

Lewis was originally charged for the murder in 1985.

However, the case was dismissed because of lack of evidence.

With evidence and leads exhausted, the case went cold.

In 2011, Smith’s body was exhumed and samples from his remains were tested against blood collected from the original crime scene.

The samples from the crime scene matched the DNA taken from the exhumed body, with the chances of another individual possessing the same DNA being one in 388,000.

The samples were analyzed and identified by forensic experts with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations (OSBI).

Additionally, agents with the OSBI and District 17 District Attorney Mark Matloff’s office assisted in the investigation to move the case forward.

Believing there was enough evidence to convict Lewis for Smith’s murder, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter filed a first degree murder charge against Lewis in July 2017.

This month, Lewis, who is now 66, was found guilty of the first-degree murder of his co-worker.

Officials say it took the jury 45 minutes to deliberate before reaching the unanimous verdict.

He was sentenced to serve life in prison.

“The successful outcome of this trial couldn’t have happened without the relentless commitment of attorneys and investigators working together to bring justice to the Smith family,” Attorney General Hunter said. “Though today’s conviction won’t bring their loved one back, I hope the family that waited all of these years for someone to be held accountable finally has the closure they deserve.”

“All convictions are hard to secure, but cold cases are among the most difficult,” Hunter continued. “I appreciate the great work of the attorneys and investigators in our Criminal Justice Division and agents with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation for solving this case. My office is dedicated to partnering with statewide law enforcement to handle the most challenging cases communities face.”