Teen to stand trial for fatal classroom stabbing

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published March 8, 2019

 Tanaya Lewis, 18, remained held in the Macomb County Jail and was not eligible to post bail pending her arraignment.

Tanaya Lewis, 18, remained held in the Macomb County Jail and was not eligible to post bail pending her arraignment.

Photo by Brian Louwers

WARREN — Tanaya Lewis was ordered to stand trial for murder following a second day of testimony about last September’s fatal stabbing at Warren’s Fitzgerald High School.

Lewis, now 18, was brought back before 37th District Court Judge Matthew Sabaugh on March 1, where the court heard from Detective Cpl. James Twardesky, of the Warren Police Department, the lead detective in the case, who testified about her alleged words and actions after the killing of 16-year-old classmate Danyna Gibson.

Lewis was charged with murder after she allegedly stabbed Gibson to death during a second-hour economics class at the school on Sept. 12. A teacher and about 20 students were in the classroom at the time.

In prior testimony on Feb. 15, the teacher and two students testified about what they witnessed that morning in the classroom. Another staff member and a Warren Police Department school resource officer recalled what they saw immediately afterward.

An 18-year-old student who also testified previously said he grew close to Lewis after they met on Snapchat during the summer after his freshman year in 2016. He said they moved from friendship to dating and had broken up a few times, most recently in August of last year, before school started.

The teen said he’d learned  that Lewis had cheated on him the day before the stabbing, when Gibson reportedly told him while they were on a bus, headed to a cross country meet. The teen told the court that Lewis “figured it out herself” who had told him, and that Lewis later texted him to say that Gibson and another girl in their circle of friends “have something coming to them” the next day.

After he picked Lewis up for school the next morning, he said, she gave him $100 as a birthday present. He said she later sent him a text that said, “It’s time.”

In testimony March 1, Twardesky said he interviewed Lewis for about 45 minutes after she was arrested and brought to police headquarters, immediately after the stabbing. He said Lewis told him she was a straight-A student at Fitzgerald, and that she was at one point very upset. He said she also indicated that she didn’t want to sign an advice of rights form before questioning until she had an opportunity to speak with her ex-boyfriend.

Twardesky said he contacted officers still at the school and asked them to find the teen. Once he was identified and located, Twardesky  testified that he gave Lewis a cellphone and left the room briefly while she spoke to her ex-boyfriend.

“I left her in the interview room and shut the door. I later reviewed the video,” Twardesky said. “You could hear her stating that, ‘I love you. Do you love her? ... I’m sorry,’ and something about it being over.”

During the interview that followed, Twardesky said Lewis eventually said, “I don’t like her,” when asked if she knew Gibson. That allegedly changed to, “I hate her,” when he asked her to elaborate.

Under questioning from Jean Cloud, the chief trial attorney in Macomb County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Smith’s office, Twardesky said he asked Lewis more about her relationship with the male teen.

“She stated that they were working on their relationship at the current time. She stated that he was the love of her life, and she stated that Miss Gibson had ruined everything,” Twardesky said.

When asked about the killing and the weapon used, Twardesky testified that Lewis said she had blacked out and that the first thing she remembered was being in a room. She later told him she awoke at about 5 a.m. the day of the stabbing, let her poodle outside and got ready for school.

He said she eventually admitted to taking a small knife from the kitchen.

Twardesky said Lewis was also asked about what happened that morning in class.

“She stated she was listening to music, and then at some point the class stood up to get into different groups. She then indicated she was facing Miss Gibson and then she remembered everything going dark, and Miss Gibson was running, and she got taken out of the room,” Twardesky said. “She stated to me that (Gibson) looked scared to her and they were facing each other. She stated it appeared that (Gibson) was looking to another student for help and that she ran.”

In his closing remarks, Macomb County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney William Cataldo, chief of the county’s Homicide Unit, argued that the testimony supported sending the case against Lewis to trial by jury, which would be asked to consider a charge of first-degree murder based on four elements: whether Lewis caused Gibson’s death, and whether it was intentional, premeditated and deliberate.

“I think motive is such a clear element of premeditation here. By Miss Lewis’ own statement, she hated Miss Gibson,” Cataldo said. “You listen to her talk to the detective in her statement; she stated (Gibson) ruined everything.”

Cataldo also mentioned the texts sent the night before and the day Gibson died, including the alleged, “It’s time” statement, and the amount of time that Lewis had to think about what she was doing.

He said Lewis waited until students began an in-class transition to approach Gibson.

“It is at that time that she calmly walks across the floor, takes the knife and stabs Miss Gibson twice in the chest,” Cataldo said.

Defense attorney Mark Brown objected to Cataldo’s motion asking the judge to send the case to trial in Macomb County Circuit Court, but declined to comment further to reporters after the hearing.

Lewis remained held in the Macomb County Jail and was not eligible to post bail pending her circuit court arraignment. She could face life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder, but because she was 17 at the time the alleged crime was committed, she could be sentenced to a lesser term.