Prosecutors "very pleased" with guilty verdict for hit man

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COLUMBIA - A murder for hire case ended Wednesday night when a jury found an Oklahoma man guilty of murder.

Columbia man Brian Daniels died in the early morning hours of April 10, 2013. Investigators never recovered a murder weapon.

The jury spent four and half hours deliberating the defendant Casey Lewis' fate. Lewis pleaded not guilty. Judge Gary Oxenhandler read the verdict shortly before 9 p.m. Wednesday.

KOMU 8 News spoke with prosecutors Andrea Hayes and Stephanie Morrell following the guilty verdict. Prosecutors said the multi-state investigation and large crime made this case a challenging one.

"It was a complex story," Morrell said. "We had to tell it and tell it in a way that the jury understood and that we could show them without a reasonable doubt that they were guilty."

Hayes said this case included an "overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence." She said both the prosecution and the Daniels family are "very pleased."

Daniels' family traveled to Columbia for both the Lewis and Thompson trials. 

"They had to endure seeing photos of Brian, autopsy photos, crime scene photos," Hayes said. "They had to endure hearing people saying negative things about Brian, things that weren't true about Brian and they had to sit quietly and watch and hope that the processed worked."

Throughout the three-day proceedings, the prosecution described the victim Brian Daniels as a schizophrenic who had been severely burned in a fire. The prosecution said because of this, Daniels had obtained a large sum of money in a settlement. They described him as "quite wealthy" at the time of his death.

Prosecutors said that large sum of money attracted another man named James Thompson. They said while defendant Casey Lewis had not met Daniels prior to the day of his death, Lewis became involved when Thompson hired him as a hit man.

A jury found James Thompson guilty of murder in January 2015. During those proceedings, Thompson said he was both a "caretaker" and "lover" to Daniels. Testimony in Lewis' trial also included statements that Thompson said he and Daniels were in a domestic partnership. On the first day of the trial, the prosecution played a 911 call from Thompson to the Columbia Police Department in which he said he'd found his "partner" dead.

Throughout Lewis' trial, defense attorneys Justin Carver and Erin Douglas reiterated "James acted alone" in the killing and reinforced that no witnesses could place Lewis at Daniels' home and no physical evidence suggested so either.

Lewis wore a dark suit and thick black glasses throughout the trial. He wore his hair in a long braid and made only small facial expressions throughout the proceedings.

Oxenhandler set sentencing for April 7.