It was this bloody handprint that put a teenager behind bars for the murder of his twin brother.
It was this same evidence that set him free.
Derris Lewis opens up about the murder of his brother five years ago, as he works to draw attention to the unsolved crime.
“We need justice. It's a sad situation. And I don't think I will rest really, until I find who did this,” Lewis recently told 10 Investigates.
For Lewis, the search for justice started five years ago.
During a bitter-cold January night, a pack of masked intruders broke into his North Columbus home.
Inside were Derris' mother, April, and his twin brother Dennis.
The intruders held the partially paralyzed woman at gunpoint. They also fought Dennis, smashing him in the head with a bar stool.
Then, they shot him.
“When he had passed away, my other half was gone. Every time I look in the mirror, I see him,” said Derris.
At just 17-years-old, a kid who loved to march in the East High School band was gone. His life was taken just after he won a spot on homecoming court.
“Just thanks to everyone who voted for me,” said Dennis at the time of the honor.
Derris said he felt the loss like nobody else could.
“I can't feed off of other people like finishing their sentences, I can't do that. With my twin I could, you know. ‘Our elbow hurt. His elbow hurt.’ It would just be so different you
know,” said Derris. “It's a void that can't be filled, you know, as a twin.”
But Derris did not get much time to think about losing Dennis. A few weeks later, Columbus police detectives called him to headquarters.
“They said they have some suspects and whatever, and I didn't know it was a whole set-up. I am just trying to help you know,” said Derris.
Derris told 10 Investigates that he was cooperating fully in the investigation.
“And they were like, ‘We have the murderer.’ And I'm like, ‘Oh really?’ And I was ‘Oh, who is it?' Basically, and they said it's you and I was like, ‘Oh no,” said Derris. “At that moment, I
was… I jumped out of myself-outside of myself--outside of myself. I couldn't breathe. He had to give me water.”
Derris went to jail on a murder charge that night after police thought they had tied him to the crime. They said this bloody palm print proved Derris was there during the murder.
News reports went wild with the story.
But everyone who knew Derris said it couldn't be.
Attorney Adam Nemann thought the same thing.
“When he told me he was innocent, I believed him; and I normally don't say that about my clients,” said Nemann. “It was completely out of character for Derris Lewis to have ever been
involved in this or have anything to do with it. Therefore, we knew that fingerprint must have been wrong.”
Nemann and co-counsel Shannon Leis just had to find a way to prove it.
Leis knew the only way to beat the charges was to somehow show there was something wrong with that bloody palm print detectives said belonged to Derris.
“If it what it was what is was claimed to be, that's very damning evidence,” said Leis.
Meanwhile, Derris turned to scripture.
“My Bible says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, lean not onto the known understanding but unto the ways of His showing and He shall direct thy path,” said Derris. “While in there,
I read my Bible every day. Every day. Front to back.”
A breakthrough came for the legal team with the trial looming just weeks away.
“All of a sudden, I'm like, 'It's the amino black pattern. That's it!” said Leis.
Leis discovered that print made with Dennis' blood did not have Derris's palm print at all.
Detective Althea Young told crime scene analysts to collect the print that was in blood. When they did, they cut out a piece of wall board and sprayed it with a chemical called amino black
that revealed an invisible print above the bloody smear. That print belonged to Derris.
But Leis said the amindo black used to expose it ran down and made it look like both prints were in blood. But they were not.
Since Derris lived in the house for four years, he likely put the print there long before any blood showed up.
“I felt amazing. Amazing,” said Leis. “I absolutely knew. I never had a doubt in my mind he was innocent. It was driving me crazy about how this evidence could exist when I know he's
Lewis's trial went forward.
Prosecutors pulled that piece of wall board to prove their case. Nemann and Leis fought back but in the end, there would be no decision. A problem with a juror forced a mistrial.
Only then, did Nemann convince prosecutors to re-test the evidence. The state agreed to drop the charges, if the defense theory was right.
“We tested the print, exactly where Derris's print was for blood and it came back negative,” said Nemann.
“Shannon was on the floor crying. She was like, 'You're getting out, you're getting out! I was like, ‘What?’” said Derris. “She was like, 'Why don't you seem happy or elated?' And I was
like, 'I am, but I knew this was coming. I am ready.’”
Eighteen months after police put him in jail, Derris walked out.
“It was like new life, it was new life to me,” said Derris. “I just wanted to see my mom.”
But even during that brilliant moment, Derris was haunted by the loss of Dennis. He stopped by his grave the day he got out.
“It's just difficult knowing these people are still out there and the investigation went somewhere it shouldn't have went. The investigators, they had leads, but just did not follow,” he
“If you were to pick up this investigation yourself and try to figure out what happened here, what is the first thing you would do?” asked 10 Investigates Paul Aker.
“I would track down the individuals whose names we came across within the first 24 hours of the homicide,” said Nemann.
10 Investigates looked into those leads and obtained exclusive access to investigative documents compiled by detectives and followed the trail.
Early on, police focused on a man known by the initials RSH; we're not identifying him because he hasn't been charged.
Police found RSH with a handgun shortly after Dennis was murdered. His girlfriend told detectives that RSH told her he was involved. His girlfriend gave police details that Nemann said
hadn't been made public.
According to one report, the woman told detectives RSH said, "I know who pulled the trigger, but I didn't."
The woman gave several other details about the crime scene, and finally said that RSH was there as others were fighting "With this young guy, (and RSH) heard the gun go off."
During Derris's trial, Nemann called RSH to the stand, but he refused to testify.
“Extremely troubling to me, the fact that he wouldn't even deny it,” said Nemann.
“That's an eerie feeling to know that he knows something. There's something he's not giving up. I mean why not tell it?” said Derris.
“I think it's something that should be followed up on,” said Nemann.
10 Investigates went looking for RSH.
After knocking on door after door and following a trail that had cooled for five years, 10TV finally caught up to the 22-year-old.
He agreed to meet us at the courthouse and reluctantly answered questions on camera.
“Did you have anything to do this?” asked Aker.
"The prosecutor came to me and said, ‘I know you have nothing to do with this situation but you know who did have something to do with it. We think, you know, the person who has something
to do with it.’ And I told them that from day one, I had nothing to do it with it,” said RSH.
RSH took a lie detector test, and though some people doubt that test, RSH passed. He's also cooperated with police from the beginning.
“Why was it that you decided to take the 5th Amendment on the stand if you had nothing to do with it?” asked 10TV.
RSH said his adult mentor urged him to keep quiet.
“Because, I felt it was the right thing to do at the time,” said RSH.
And, about those explosive allegations from his girlfriend…
"Probably because I broke up with her and wasn't trying to be with her no more,” said RSH.
Columbus police detectives said they are not currently looking at RSH as a suspect. They said that they're pursuing other leads.
“I don't want them going and getting the wrong person. I want them to get the right person and they get fully convicted,” said Derris. “They need to go out and find who did this.”
Derris set up a Dennis Lewis scholarship fund for high school students at their alma mater. He said a 100 per cent of the money goes to students who exceed expectations in school.
Thursday night, 10 Investigates digs deeper into developments with the case Derris' attorney decides to up the stakes. How he's encouraging people to come forward.
And 10 Investigates Paul Aker sits down with the cold case detective assigned to the case.