Officials say motive was life insurance policy taken out by Daniel Aikens
| Alexandria Town Talk
The Grant Parish Sheriff’s Office announced on Tuesday (Aug. 11, 2020) that it had gotten a warrant on a second-degree murder charge for Daniel Dewayne Aikens, who is suspected of killing 29-year-old Keelien Darquis Lewis on Dec. 31, 2017. The motive was a $250,000 life insurance policy that Aikens took out on Lewis, a three-week employee of Aikens’ lawn-care business, said Grant Parish Sheriff Steven McCain.
COLFAX — Although Daniel Dewayne Aikens became a suspect in the 2017 asphyxiation death of Keelien Darquis Lewis within days, it took more than two years to get evidence that secured a warrant for his arrest.
The Grant Parish Sheriff’s Office began looking at Aikens just two to three days after they were called to a Grove Street home in Dry Prong on Dec. 31, 2017, because of an unresponsive person. Lewis, 29, was found dead in a bedroom.
While Grant investigators kept searching for the evidence that would allow them to make an arrest, Aikens found himself in more trouble. He was arrested on Jan. 6, four days after an explosion outside an Alexandria payday loan business that authorities allege was a failed attempt to extort $10,000 from the business.
He was indicted on one count of making threats by mail or telephone. He has pleaded not guilty.
But it was that federal investigation that unearthed evidence that allowed the Grant Sheriff’s Office to secure a second-degree murder warrant for Aikens in Lewis’ death, said Sheriff Steven McCain.
More: Probable cause found for extortion case against alleged Alexandria bomber
Lewis had worked for Aiken’s lawn care business, Just What You Expect, for just three weeks. Aikens had taken out a $250,000 life insurance policy on Lewis, which raised a big red flag for the parish’s coroner.
Dean Nugent, who now is retired as coroner, also was an insurance agent for more than 35 years. He said he saw “little bitty red flags everywhere” in the case, but finding out about the insurance policy was the big red flag.
Lewis’ official cause of death was asphyxiation by carbon monoxide poisoning. McCain said Aikens turned on a gas fish cooker in a bedroom where Lewis fell asleep with the door shut.
“It was a targeted and well-thought-out plan on Aikens’ part to kill him for money,” said McCain. “That’s the bottom line. He killed this guy for greed and for money. This is my opinion, but it’s the true epitome of evil, that you’re willing to take another human’s life for a dollar bill.
“My hope is that he never walks around in society again and never has a chance to hurt somebody else or somebody else’s family ever again.”
A tip that alleged the death wasn’t an accident came in days after Lewis’ body was found, he said.
Aikens claimed that it was an accident, that Lewis must have gotten cold and turned on the fish cooker for heat but fell asleep, said the sheriff.
McCain noted that Nugent and Dale Whitstine, the detective originally assigned to the case, both have retired. He called the case one of the most complex and involved he could recall in his time as sheriff.
He credited Nugent, Whitstine and Chief Investigator Brad Sudduth for sticking with the case “because they knew this was not an accident.” The crucial evidence from the FBI and ATF allowed them to finally make the arrest, he said.
“But we also know, that as law enforcement professionals, we have got to have enough evidence for the prosecutor to be able to prosecute the case,” said McCain. “It’s much more than just arresting somebody and putting somebody in jail. You’ve got to have enough evidence so this guy can be prosecuted and never be allowed to hurt another family again.”
And what investigators went through was nothing compared to what Lewis’ family endured, said McCain.
His mother, Lakishama Lewis, described her son as outgoing, happy-go-lucky and said the family was close. He didn’t speak much, but he always had a smile, she said. Lewis had three children — two daughters and a son.
The family wore T-shirts with Lewis’ photo. The one worn by his 8-year-old son, Ka’Dren Lewis, showed the two wrapped in a hug.
On Tuesday, Lakishama said she’s been waiting for this day for two-and-a-half years. She and her family stood beside McCain as he announced details of the case.
After the press conference, the family huddled with Whitstine for a few minutes. “I thank God, and I thank God for you,” Lakishama told Whitstine.
As the family was leaving, she stopped to shake McCain’s hand.
“Thank you for not giving up,” she told him.
McCain said Aikens allegedly got policies on Lewis and other employees by telling them they would become co-owners of the lawn care business.
Jared Medaries, supervisory senior resident agent with the FBI, said the investigation is still ongoing so he couldn’t discuss details. He and others thanked all the agencies that worked on the case, saying without that cooperation there might not have been a successful outcome.
In addition to the Grant Sheriff’s Office and FBI, other agencies involved included the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Louisiana State Police, the Alexandria Police Department and Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Aikens wasn’t a stranger to local law enforcement. Once a middle school teacher in both Grant and Rapides parishes, he was arrested by the Grant Sheriff’s Office in April 2018 in a domestic abuse case in which the victim was found bleeding with a belt cinched around her neck.
In that case, he was arrested on charges of domestic abuse battery by strangulation, domestic abuse battery aggravated assault and intimidation of a witness.
That incident happened at a Grove Street home in Dry Prong, too.
Arrest of Daniel Dewayne Aikens during Alexandria explosion investigation
Authorities are not commenting publicly after Alexandria resident Daniel Dewayne Aikens, 37, was arrested as a joint federal, state and local investigation into a Jan. 2, 2020, explosion continues.
Within weeks, he was arrested again for allegedly violating a protective order, said McCain.
On Aug. 15, 2018, he was arrested on warrants from the Alexandria Police Department for theft of a motor vehicle and felony theft. Two days later, he was arrested on a contempt of court charge in Grant Parish.
Then, McCain said, Aikens was arrested in Grant Parish on Jan. 10, 2019, on charges of battery of a police officer, taking contraband into the jail, simple assault and criminal mischief.
Louisiana State Police arrested him in 2019 on 16 counts of insurance fraud.
His next arrest was in the Alexandria explosion case, which caused a frenzy as rumors spread through the community while federal, state and local law enforcement responded to various sites in the ongoing investigation.
McCain said it doesn’t appear Aikens was in debt.
“We don’t believe that,” he said, pointing to the jobs Aikens held as a teacher, military officer and his own business. “So he’s got income, or he had income.”
Aikens was discharged from the Louisiana National Guard after his arrest by federal authorities.
Aikens remains in federal custody. The Grant Sheriff’s Office has issued a detainer on him, meaning that he would be transferred to their custody if he ever was released from federal custody.
No court dates currently are set in Aikens’ federal court. If convicted in the extortion case, he could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.