Slain Real­tor’s fam­ily sues

Com­pany didn’t en­sure train­ing, safety of agent, fil­ing says.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JOHN LYNCH

The fam­ily of mur­dered real es­tate agent Bev­erly Carter is su­ing the com­pany where she had been a top seller, claim­ing that the Crye-Leike com­pany is partly to blame for her death by not mak­ing sure that she had suf­fi­cient safety train­ing and equip­ment.

The wrong­ful-death suit, filed near the third an­niver­sary of her Septem­ber 2014 kid­nap­ping and killing, says the com­pany had a duty to pro­tect in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors like Carter. She had been a reg­u­lar mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar seller for the agency, though her sales had been slump­ing when she was killed be­cause she had had to take sig­nif­i­cant time off from work to re­cover from surgery.

Crye-Leike Inc. failed to live up to its obli­ga­tions by not pro­vid­ing the in­struc­tion and tools nec­es­sary to make sure its agents were safe, par­tic­u­larly when meet­ing with prospec­tive clients out­side the of­fice, ac­cord­ing to the six­page law­suit. Carter, 50, was mur­dered by a Jack­sonville man who, with his wife, posed as cash-pay­ing cus­tomers to lure her to a re­mote house in Eng­land so they could

kid­nap her for ran­som. The cou­ple de­lib­er­ately sought out a real es­tate agent be­cause they knew they could get her alone.

But their plan fell apart al­most im­me­di­ately, and Carter was smoth­ered, then buried in woods be­hind a con­crete plant near Cabot out of fear that she could iden­tify her cap­tors.

The plain­tiffs in the suit are Carter’s im­me­di­ate fam­ily — her hus­band and two sur­viv­ing sons — and her es­tate. They are seek­ing com­pen­satory dam­ages for their pain, suf­fer­ing and loss. They have pe­ti­tioned Pu­laski County Cir­cuit Judge Tim Fox for a jury trial.

Af­ter Carter’s slay­ing, the fam­ily es­tab­lished a foun­da­tion in her name to pro­mote safe prac­tices in the real es­tate industry. The fam­ily op­er­ates a web­site at bev­er­ly­carter­foun­da­tion.org.

Her old­est son, Carl Carter Jr., has trav­eled the coun­try speak­ing about agents’ safety and pro­tec­tion. He, his wife, Kim, and his brother Chad are sales as­so­ci­ates for Re/Max Elite in North Lit­tle Rock.

Af­ter her death, the Arkansas Real­tors As­so­ci­a­tion set up a safety task force to de­velop train­ing and best prac­tices, which in­cludes pro­mot­ing the Carter fam­ily’s “Bev­erly Carter Safety Cer­ti­fied Of­fice” pro­gram. Real es­tate bro­kers na­tion­wide have em­braced the pro­gram.

Fam­ily at­tor­ney Bryce Brewer did not re­turn a call seek­ing com­ment Thurs­day. The de­fen­dants, Arkansas-based com­pa­nies Crye-Leike and Crye-Leike of Arkansas, have not re­sponded to the law­suit.

The 40-year-old com­pany, founded in Mem­phis, is the fifth-largest real es­tate com­pany in the na­tion, op­er­ates in nine mid-South states and Puerto Rico, with 21 of­fices in Arkansas. An­other four of­fices are fran­chises.

Ex­perts have said Carter’s death was quick but ex­cru­ci­at­ing. Au­thor­i­ties said her killer, Aaron Lewis, had wrapped her head com­pletely in green duct tape, cre­at­ing “a … mask of death,” to kill her be­cause he knew that sher­iff’s deputies were clos­ing in on him.

Con­victed in a trial in Jan­uary 2016, Lewis is serv­ing two life terms for cap­i­tal mur­der and kid­nap­ping. His

wife, Crys­tal Low­ery, tes­ti­fied against him in an ar­range­ment with prose­cu­tors. She was sen­tenced to 30 years in prison for first-de­gree mur­der and kid­nap­ping. She will be el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply for pa­role in Novem­ber 2035.

On Lewis’ cell­phone, in­ves­ti­ga­tors found a 12-sec­ond record­ing that was in­tended for Carter’s hus­band to hear. In it, Carter begs him to co­op­er­ate with her ab­duc­tors with­out call­ing po­lice, or “it could be bad.”

Low­ery told ju­rors that she and Lewis chose Carter be­cause they needed money and thought she was rich. They spent two weeks plan­ning to kid­nap a woman for ran­som, some­one who was mar­ried and fi­nan­cially sta­ble to en­sure that they got paid. They had hoped to get $100,000.

Lewis planned to have the vic­tim’s spouse de­posit the money in a bank ac­count that he would ac­cess with elec­tronic debit cards that he would forge. Lewis planned to hold Carter at the con­crete plant un­til he and Low­ery re­ceived the money.

Low­ery said they de­cided to abduct a real es­tate agent be­cause they wanted some­one who worked alone. She tes­ti­fied that Lewis chose Carter and re­searched her on Face­book.

Low­ery said she spoke with Carter on the day of the ab­duc­tion be­cause Lewis wanted to as­sure Carter that she was deal­ing with a hus­band and wife who were plan­ning to pay cash for a new home.

Later, Lewis texted Low­ery a photo of Carter in the trunk of the car he had put her in, Low­ery told ju­rors at the trial. Carter was ly­ing on her side bound at the wrists in green tape with more tape cov­er­ing her face, she said. Low­ery said she deleted the photo be­cause she didn’t want to get caught with it.

Lewis gave up on hid­ing Carter at the con­crete plant and took her, blind­folded and bound, to the cou­ple’s Jack­sonville home, where he told Low­ery that Carter did not have ran­som money. Low­ery said they put Carter in their bath­room while Lewis went back to the house where he’d ab­ducted her to get her purse and debit card.

Lewis gave Low­ery an elec­tronic stun gun to use on Carter if she tried to es­cape while he was gone, Low­ery tes­ti­fied, telling ju­rors that she was alone with Carter for at least 30 min­utes. But Carter stayed quiet and did not make any at­tempt to get away.

When Lewis re­turned empty-handed af­ter find­ing sher­iff’s deputies search­ing the area where they had kid­napped Carter, the cou­ple de­cided Carter had to die, Low­ery tes­ti­fied. Lewis knew that Carter had seen his face and wor­ried that she could iden­tify the cou­ple’s home, Low­ery told ju­rors. Low­ery said she was afraid that Carter might have seen some­thing with Low­ery’s name on it in the bath­room.

Lewis didn’t tell her where he was tak­ing Carter, Low­ery said. When he re­turned home the morn­ing af­ter the kid­nap­ping, he told Low­ery that he had killed Carter, she tes­ti­fied. Lewis said he had stran­gled her, Low­ery told ju­rors. Lewis said he was sur­prised by how long it took to kill her, Low­ery said.

The night af­ter the ab­duc­tion, the cou­ple pur­chased a shovel to use to bury Carter. Low­ery said they drove to the con­crete plant, and Lewis led her to the woman’s body. She de­scribed how she could see Carter’s hands still bound with green tape.

Low­ery said she used her phone as a flash­light for Lewis while he spent about 15 min­utes dig­ging a hole next to Carter’s body. Low­ery told ju­rors that Lewis pulled the body into the hole, then pulled the body into it and cov­ered it with dirt.

Lewis made a se­ries of in­crim­i­nat­ing state­ments to in­ves­ti­ga­tors and news re­porters. At his trial, he claimed that Carter had gone with him will­ingly for a con­sen­sual sex­ual en­counter with him and Low­ery that they had ar­ranged over the In­ter­net.

He told ju­rors that Low­ery had ac­ci­den­tally suf­fo­cated Carter dur­ing a sex­ual mishap, and that all he had done was to hide the woman’s body to pro­tect his wife. He said he put the tape over Carter’s face af­ter she died to pro­tect her from in­sects. Lewis told ju­rors that the cell­phone record­ing had been cre­ated with a com­puter.

Carter

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