Gregory Elarms, the longtime friend accused of murdering East Palo Alto community activist David Lewis, could face the death penalty, Steve Wagstaffe, incoming San Mateo County district attorney, said Tuesday.
Elarms, 58, was arrested Sunday by San Mateo police for the June 9 shooting death of Lewis in the parking garage at Hillsdale Shopping Center in San Mateo.
He is charged with two counts: murder and being a felon in possession of a firearm, with special allegations (use of a firearm to commit the murder) and a special circumstance of murder by lying in wait.
Elarms could face life in prison without parole or the death penalty because of the lying-in-wait special circumstance, Wagstaffe said.
The decision to pursue the death penalty "will be made at a subsequent date as we learn more about the crime and the defendant," he said.
Police announced the arrest Monday after an intensive 6-month investigation that only led to Elarms in the past several days and at least in part came from the suspect himself, according to San Mateo police Chief Susan Manheimer.
Elarms has a criminal record stretching back to 1969, Manheimer said. He has two felony convictions: a 1983 burglary conviction in Santa Clara County and a conviction in San Mateo County in 1986 for possession of a controlled substance for sale, according to court records.
In recent years, he had cleaned up his life and ended his drug use, friends said. He was a friend of Lewis, dating back to their childhood in East Palo Alto.
Police allege Elarms spotted Lewis in the parking lot at San Mateo Medical Center, where Lewis worked, and followed him to Hillsdale mall, where he confronted Lewis in the parking garage.
Witnesses told police a verbal altercation took place, and Lewis was shot in the back as he walked away. He died after being transported to Stanford Hospital, Manheimer said.
Elarms' case was to be referred to the private-defender program and an attorney will be appointed for him, Wagstaffe said.
Manheimer said on Monday that police are continuing to investigate the case, but they are sure Elarms acted alone.
Noting the trauma to the East Palo Alto community, where Lewis was a popular and well-known figure, Manheimer on Monday thanked the East Palo Alto community and East Palo Alto police for their participation and many tips in trying to solve the crime.
"We hope this is the Christmas present the community and the family have all been hoping for," she said.
Elarms is due back in court in Redwood City on Jan. 4.