DENVER – A judge Friday ordered three Colorado men to stand trial for murder, robbery and arson in the stabbing deaths of five people at a Denver bar that authorities say was set on fire to cover up the killings.
A fourth man who was with the accused during the Oct. 17 slayings at Fero's Bar & Grill is a federal informant who hasn't been charged.
The men — Dexter Lewis, 22, and brothers Joseph Hill, 27, and Lynell Jonathan Hill, 24 — are accused of killing the five victims during a robbery as the bar's closing time was approaching. They were ordered held without bail and were scheduled to enter a plea at their arraignment on May 24.
The most compelling evidence against the three so far is testimony from Demarea Harris, an informant for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as recounted by a Denver police homicide detective.
The detective, Mark Crider, testified earlier that Harris reported the slayings to the Denver ATF office, hours after they occurred. Crider said he asked Harris if some cash Harris was carrying came from the Hill brothers. Harris said yes, The Denver Post reported.
Harris told Crider that he went to bar with the Hill brothers to play pool and drink beer.
According to Crider, Joseph Hill told him that Lynell Hill needed money to cover costs in an unrelated court case. Crider related the following details, as told to him by Harris, the informant:
Harris and Lewis entered the bar first, followed by the Hill brothers, who wore Halloween masks. Joseph Hill knew bar owner Young Suk Fero because she had once rented to him.
Lewis and the Hills ordered the five to get on the floor and demanded their wallets. Joseph Hill looted the cash registers, Crider testified.
Harris said Lewis began stabbing the victims "over and over and over again," while the Hill brothers held them down at gunpoint, Crider testified.
An attorney for Joseph Hill, Tom Hammond, seized upon Harris' presence at the bar and the fact that he had some cash from the robbery during the February hearing.
"Demarea Harris is a proven liar," Hammond said, the Post reported.
During Friday's hearing, prosecutor Matthew Wenig countered that argument, by telling the judge that incriminating statements made by Joseph Hill and statements by Harris match "90 to 95 percent." He also said that investigators have recovered other evidence to make their case, including a BB gun, gas can, clothes, boots and the Halloween masks.
Wenig said that Harris worried that he was placing himself and his family in danger because the defendants knew where he and his family lived but came forward anyway because: "These were good people and they didn't deserve what happened to them."
ATF spokesman Brad Beyersdorf said he could not comment on an ongoing case. Lynn Kimbrough, a spokeswoman for the Denver district attorney's office, said that prosecutors reviewed all evidence before deciding who would be charged. She said she could not elaborate.
Killed were Fero, 63, of Aurora; Daria M. Pohl, 21, of Denver; Kellene Fallon, 44, of Denver; Ross Richter, 29, of Overland Park, Kan.; and Tereasa Beesley, 45, of Denver.
Friends and family of the victims sat on one side of the courtroom as the three suspects walked into the courtroom in red jail uniforms and shackles, their handcuffs secured to their waist by a chain. On another side of the courtroom sat friends and family of the defendants in which direction Lewis, who was seated in the jury box with his attorney, gazed during the hearing.
Friends and family of the victims were escorted out by court officials and did not comment.
Neither prosecutors nor defense attorneys commented after the hearing.
"I don't know how he got mixed up in all that," Tracy Jimmerson said of Lewis. "My nephew is not that type of guy. Our family is not that type."
He also questioned the statements made by Harris to investigators.
"If you go somewhere and (stuff) is happening, wouldn't you say, 'I'm getting out there?' There's just a whole bunch of holes," Jimmerson said.
The three men will stand trial on five counts of first-degree murder, felony murder, robbery and arson.