The long, painful journey the family of Gene Sabin had to travel to gain closure and justice came to an abrupt end Friday morning.
The jury in 355th Judicial District Court in Granbury needed only about 30 minutes to decide that Oak Trail Shores (OTS) resident Gordon Ray Lewis, 36, was guilty of the capital murder of Sabin. Lewis will serve life in prison.
The prosecutors, District Attorney Rob Christian and Assistant District Attorney Patrick Berry, set out to prove that Lewis was part of the conspiracy of three people who plotted to rob Sabin – a plan that resulted in the Jan. 17, 2012 shooting death.
The other two indicted had already been convicted and sentenced. Justin Wade Ragan, 24, was found guilty of capital murder in January. Kimberly Danielle Milwicz, 25, was convicted of murder in April.
Ragan, like Lewis, was automatically sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole because the murder was a capital offense, committed in tandem with a robbery.
Milwicz was sentenced to life in prison but since hers was not a capital murder conviction, she can apply for parole in about 30 years.
Sabin was a 63-year-old resident of the Rolling Hills Shores subdivision who had managed T.J.’s Private Club and Cafe on Oak Trail Drive, near the entrance to OTS, the last five years for his oldest sister, T.J. Lape.
Sabin served in the Army and, later, in the Texas Army National Guard, for a total of 33 years of military service. He also was known to some in the law enforcement community because of work he did as a Hood County probation officer.
Testimony from one of his sons, Brian Sabin of Fort Worth, and employees indicated that Gene Sabin apparently had a stroke just a few days before the Martin Luther King weekend that preceded his death.
“He was well liked,” said Lape, who noted that Gene took over as manager after she was involved in a serious car accident in 2009, which forced doctors to put her on life support for 4-1/2 months. “He didn’t deserve that after all his years in the military.”
“Gene Sabin was a good man,” Christian stated. “Though I am pleased with the three verdicts, I remain saddened by (the) loss of Mr. Sabin’s family.”
‘THIS IS PERSONAL’
Berry’s closing statements not only were emotional, as he told the jury, “I knew Gene Sabin. This is personal,” but he also made sure to remind them of the statements made by one key witness who had been a friend of Lewis.
“I made sure we had a gun,” and “we were in the parking lot making sure the gun was loaded,” Berry told the jury, quoting from Justin Pratt’s statements about a conversation in July with Lewis at Pratt’s home in Fort Worth.
Pratt also testified that Lewis told him, “We killed him,” Berry also told the jury, which was comprised of nine men and three women.
Berry said the intent was to do harm to Sabin, with Ragan taking the gun – provided by Lewis – into the cafe while committing the robbery.
“It’s been 18 months now,” said Randy Sabin, the other of Gene’s two sons, who has been in the Air Force for 20 years and is stationed in Nebraska. “Like Patrick Berry suggested, a lot of the emotion has already been taken out. We’re starting trying to heal. I’m glad it’s over.”
Sabin said he took steps to avoid harboring a grudge over having his father taken away.
“I’ve already forgiven,” Randy Sabin said. “That’s just for me to get through this. I can’t go around with hate in my heart. For closure, this definitely helps.”
Lape, Gene Sabin’s oldest sister and the owner of the club for the past 15 years, said she was “ecstatic” and felt glad the ordeal was over when she heard the verdict. While sitting in the office at T.J.’s following the verdict, she pointed to a desk and said that Gene had been a steady reader of God’s word.
“He read the Bible every morning – right here,” she said. “He went to Korea and traveled all around the world in the military, and he gets killed in Thorp Spring. Isn’t that ironic?”
The club that bears her name is now managed by other family members.
Gene’s niece Frannie Barnes, who lives in the Lipan area, said the entire family wanted to express its thanks to the District Attorney’s Office, the Texas Rangers and the Hood County Sheriff’s Office “for all the good work they did. They did an outstanding job.
“We want to thank everybody – all three juries and the community and all of the support and prayers they’ve given us,” Barnes said. “We’re a very close family. It’s been really hard on us. We try to lean on each other for strength and guidance. Gene and my mom were very close.”
Lead defense attorney Richard Mitchell, appointed along with Don Davis, contended that some witnesses had been in trouble with the law and offered to testify against Lewis in order to have charges dropped – an accusation the prosecution denied.
“Just before (Lewis) was indicted, everybody changed their story,” Mitchell said.
Christian said that although some of the witnesses for the prosecution may have seemed less than credible in terms of their appearance and behavior, the overall evidence offered was compelling and they did not contradict each other.
“Assistant D.A. Patrick Berry and Texas Ranger Danny Briley worked months putting the case together,” Christian said. “It took time for witnesses to find the courage to come forward. Many feared retaliation.”
The D.A. pointed to the fact that Lewis’ mother, Karen Adams, is in prison “for threatening Judge Walton, Captain (Jerry) East and Sheriff Deeds.
“Lewis will be in prison for the rest of his life. Our community is safer without Lewis in it.”
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