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Steve E. Lewis, 26, of Maplewood, is charged with second-degree murder and first-degree aggravated robbery. He was arrested on Aug. 10, 2012. (Courtesy Ramsey County sheriff's office)
A 26-year-old Maplewood man has been charged with murder and aggravated robbery in the shooting death in St. Paul of Aung Thu Bo, 19, a Hamline University computer science student who responded to the man’s Craigslist ad for a cellphone.
“Take anything you want — just leave us alone and go,” Bo said to his alleged assailant, Steve E. Lewis, before Lewis shot him in the head, according to a criminal complaint filed Monday, Aug. 13, in Ramsey County District Court.
Lewis, who has four felony convictions, had ordered Bo to give him his wallet, the complaint said.
Bo had told his girlfriend he wanted her to come with him to buy an iPhone 4S that Lewis had advertised on Craigslist; they arrived at Leo’s Chow Mein on Hudson Road in Bo’s Mitsubishi Lancer. They met the man later identified as Lewis about 12:40 p.m. Friday, the complaint said.
The complaint gives these additional details:
Lewis approached Bo’s car in the parking lot of the Dayton’s Bluff restaurant. Lewis said he had left the phone’s charger at home and wanted to go get it. Bo hesitated. He asked to see the phone to determine if he was interested in it. Lewis then said that the phone was at his house, too, and added that he lived right around the corner.
“Bo told the man that he didn’t do transactions at a house,” the complaint said. His girlfriend urged him just to go there and get it done.
Lewis got into the backseat of the Lancer, behind Bo.
“He said his house was right there, and there was no need to worry because there were a lot of people around,” the complaint said.
From the restaurant, Bo went west on Hudson Road and north on Cypress Street. Lewis pulled out a black handgun that looked like a Glock, saying, “Give me what you got.”
Bo couldn’t find his wallet and asked his girlfriend if she had it. He told Lewis that the money was at the bank.
Lewis grabbed Bo’s and his girlfriend’s cellphones and put the gun to Bo’s right temple. “Give me everything,” he said. Bo begged to be let go, telling Lewis to take anything.
“The man then reached into the front seat and searched Bo’s pockets using his left hand,” the complaint said. “A gunshot went off, and Bo slumped over in the car.”
Lewis took off, running west in the alley between Wakefield Avenue and Hudson Road. The car rolled with Bo and his girlfriend still in it until she stopped it. A man driving by heard her screaming and called police.
The girlfriend tried to apply pressure to the sides of Bo’s head. He was unresponsive and was taken to Region’s Hospital.
Doctors determined that the wound, with entry on the right side and exit through the left, would be fatal. His family took him off life-support Saturday.
When an officer responded to the area, he was aware that a similar robbery had taken place there the week before. He saw a Pontiac Grand Am enter Plum Street from Bates Avenue, then pull into a driveway in the 700 block of Plum.
A man approached the driver’s side of the Grand Am, then “crouched down at the vehicle and stared at (the officer),” the complaint said.
Lewis got into the backseat as the officer held him and the driver at gunpoint. Lewis, who was talking on a cellphone, had blood on the fingers of his left hand.
The officer ordered him out of the car. Lewis said he had been shot at the Stryker Avenue Market in West St. Paul when he went to buy juice. He got a ride back from his child’s mother, but she was too afraid to take him to the hospital, he told police. He had what appeared to be a bullet hole in his forearm.
Everyone else at the house on Plum also was too afraid to take him to the hospital, Lewis told police, so he called another friend. The woman driver said he had called her a half-hour earlier, claiming he had been stabbed. When she arrived, he came out of the house holding a white T-shirt on his left arm.
He said, “Are they looking? Are the police looking this way?” She didn’t know what he was talking about. “No,” she said.
Lewis got on the phone with his child’s mother.
“I love you and tell the girls I love them,” an officer heard the suspect say to the person on the other end, as he approached the car Lewis was in. “I’m going away for a long time.”
After his arrest, Lewis denied involvement in Bo’s shooting. At some point in the interview, he asked for a lawyer.
Police found blood in the back seat of Bo’s car that “did not appear to have come from Bo’s head injury.”
A witness said that Lewis had bought a black gun, believed to be a Glock, about two to three weeks before the incident. Lewis had it tucked into his pants.
Upon a search of the Plum Street house Lewis had been in, police recovered a Glock 9mm pistol with a magazine, an extended Glock magazine, a blood-stained Chicago Bulls jersey, a pair of white blood-stained tennis shoes and several cellphones.
St. Paul police spokesman Howie Padilla would not speculate on how the suspect suffered the gunshot wound, but said it did not involve an officer.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said that the facts in the complaint suggested Lewis accidentally shot himself. “You could make that assumption,” he said.
Choi said the crime hit close to home for him, as his family, too, came to St. Paul as immigrants and worked hard to get ahead.
“By all accounts, (the victim) was a very nice young man who had a future ahead of him,” Choi said.
Padilla of the police department said Bo did “a lot of things right” before and during the exchange. Padilla said Bo spoke with the seller by phone before the meeting and arranged the meeting in a semi-public place.
“I would say one of the dangers was, although it was on a public street, it was in a confined area,” Padilla said.
Padilla reminded consumers of goods from direct marketplaces to use caution and question the source before the exchange.
“If you can start ferreting some of that stuff out, it lessens the chance of a situation like this, a tragic situation for this family and for those that knew this individual, Padilla said.
The victim was studying to become a computer engineer at Hamline University and worked two jobs to help support his family, relatives and friends said.
Lewis’ criminal history includes convictions for fifth-degree assault, theft, damage to property and domestic assault. At the time of the shooting, he was out on bail pending sentencing Oct. 1 on a violation of a domestic abuse no-contact order and was on probation for another violation of a domestic abuse no-contact order as well as for felony domestic assault.
Police are investigating whether Lewis is connected to a series of similar robberies, said Sgt. Paul Paulos, another St. Paul police spokesman. Each involved a Craigslist transaction for an iPhone and a suspect armed with a gun in the same area of Dayton’s Bluff.
The following information is from police reports:
— A 43-year-old Coon Rapids man told police he met someone to buy an iPhone, which he’d inquired about on Craigslist, about 5 p.m. Aug. 3 near Euclid and Maple streets and that the man brandished a gun and took his cash and cellphone.
— A 48-year-old Oakdale man responded to an ad on Craigslist to buy an iPhone and met a man about 3:30 p.m. Aug. 4 in the 200 block of Maple Street. The man took out a gun and demanded the victim’s wallet. He struck the victim with the gun and fled, but without the wallet.
— A 48-year-old Edina man was having a discussion that started on Craigslist about buying an iPhone. He met a man about 7 p.m. Aug. 4 in the 200 block of Bates Avenue and was robbed of cash at gunpoint.
Lewis was also set to be a college student in the fall, said Crystal Lewis, his aunt. He was to start at Century College in two weeks and planned to study automotive technology, she said.
Crystal Lewis said she has no idea what happened last week and that she feels bad for Bo’s family and for her nephew.
“I know my nephew has had problems with his upbringing, but something like this I can’t imagine — it doesn’t sound like my nephew to do something like that,” she said. “I don’t know if he was talking to someone, a friend or something, who put him up to doing what he did. I’m just kind of flabbergasted.”
Mara H. Gottfried and Andy Greder contributed to this story. Emily Gurnon can be reached at 651-228-5522. Follow her at twitter.com/emilygurnon.
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