“The former Baptist pastor who suddenly accepted a plea deal last month during his trial on arson and stalking charges was sentenced Wednesday to eight years in state prison while a separate investigation focuses on the earlier death of his wife.
Mark Wayne Lewis, 40, was charged in connection with the firebombing of his ex-girlfriend’s house in January 2014.
Shortly after the sentencing, the mother of Lewis’ late wife said she remains hopeful the attention focused on the arson case will lead investigators to conclude the 2011 death of Joanna Lewis was not a suicide.
“We feel and have felt that he’s responsible for Joanna’s death,” Patricia Hunter said during an interview in her Vacaville home.
Joanna was found hanging in a closet on Oct. 6, 2011, just days before Lewis began dating the woman whose home was later firebombed.
Hunter keeps a file of court papers documenting Lewis’ physical abuse of her daughter, which includes hospital records, multiple restraining orders and a felony conviction– and she has always questioned the coroner’s findings.
According to the coroner’s report, Joanna was found hanging by a terrycloth robe belt with her “partially suspended feet touching the floor.”
A handwritten message found nearby that said “take care of the dogs and Jerri” was considered by the coroner to be a suicide note.
Joanna’s mother calls that nonsense.
“She was leaving him and he couldn’t let that happen,” Hunter said, explaining that Joanna had left Lewis before.
The Solano County Sheriff’s Office reopened the investigation into Joanna’s death shortly after Lewis’ arrest in the arson case last year. However, investigators later found no new evidence pointing away from suicide.
But Solano County District Attorney Krishna Abrams said a newly-formed cold case unit in her office would examine the death independently.
“We were contacted by Joanna’s mother and agreed to do our own investigation,” Abrams said.
Hunter said she and her family disliked Mark Lewis so much that they held a separate funeral service and placed a memorial bench near Joanna Lewis’ headstone at the Vacaville-Elmira Cemetery engraved with her maiden name, Joanna Lynne Hunter.
Hunter, who refuses to call Lewis by name, is willing to accept that he may never be charged with murder.
“I’d be satisfied if they would just change the cause of death to ‘undetermined,'” she said.”