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Monday, January 7, 2008

Suspicious death of professor gets a new hearing

News agencies are reporting that the death of Prof. Morgan Lewis on the NSU campus will be re-examined before a state hearing officer in March.

Professor Lewis was found dead early the Monday morning before the general election of 2004 at an entrance door to the Seymour Hall faculty office building. He had a gunshot wound to the back of his neck. A trail of blood led to a dumpster near Seymour Hall where a gun was found.

In 2006, the Aberdeen Police termed the death a suicide. However, the case never received a satisfactory resolution or explanation in the minds of many faculty and Aberdeen residents. At the time of the death, the Aberdeen Police Department was in a state of turmoil with the suspension and firing of police officers and a resulting internal factional dispute. The police officer who was assigned to patrol the NSU campus and was on duty the night of the death resigned shortly after the incident.

Details of the case came out over time and contained many discrepancies. The Police Department never opened its records for any kind of official review or public eximanation.

Professor Lewis taught German at NSU and he also taught the German courses at Aberdeen Central High School. His colleagues and students found him to be an unusually energetic and upbeat professor, which factor caused doubt about the validity of the suicide determination. In closing the case as a suicide, the Police Department did not offer any explanation of what evidence and what line of reasoning led to its conclusion. Doubt about the validity of the ruling has lingered.

Initially, the coroner termed the death a homicide, but later changed the cause of death on the certificate. No evidence or reasoning was supplied in support of that change either.

The new hearing comes at the request of Morgan Lewis' partner in California, James Buck, who was listed as an insurance beneficiary. He hired Sioux Falls attorney Brendan Johnson of Johnson, Heidepriem, Janklow, Abdallah & Johnson, a prominent firm of litigation lawyers, to investigate the case. Brendan Johnson, a graduate of the University of Virginia law school, is the son of U.S Sen. Tim Johnson. The insurance was not paid because of the suicide ruling.

Brendan Johnson has gained access to the investigative records and says he has evidence which refutes the suicide ruling. The hearing will take place March 11-13 in Pierre or Aberdeen.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States