TAMPA — Shyeanne Lewis was so precocious from an early age her parents worried about keeping up with her.
She had a radiant smile, a goofy giggle and a heart that seemed too mature to fit in such a small body. They marveled at her love of reading, which didn’t come from them, as well as her quick wit and the joy she found in helping others.
Her parents lament it was Lewis’s generous heart that put her in the path of the boyfriend who would take her life. Their memories of their 23-year-old daughter came pouring out Wednesday, the day a judge sentenced Hector Acevedo to life without parole for stabbing Lewis to death.
“Everybody says it’s been about four years but I know it’s been 1,636 days since you took my baby from me,” her mother, Angela Martin, told Acevedo. “Now I don’t sleep at night. I miss work. I will never see my baby get married and have kids. I’ll never be a grandmother. Now, every Mother’s Day, I sit under a tree and look at a picture of my baby on a stone. And that’s not fair that I should have to think about you too.”
No one spoke on Acevedo’s behalf at the hearing, not even Acevedo. He sat silent and still, eyes fixated on the ground as he listened to Lewis’ family sob as Judge Michelle Sisco issued the sentence.
Last month, it took a jury two hours to find Acevedo guilty of first-degree murder for stabbing Lewis 20 times during an argument in April 2017 at the Andover Club apartments on East Busch Boulevard.
Shortly after the attack, Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies picked up Acevedo, then 24, at his mother’s house. She had called 911 after Acevedo told her he wanted to kill himself, or be killed by law enforcement officers instead, court records said. Deputies found him asleep in a back bedroom and took him into custody under the Baker Act. As deputies prepared to escort him from his mother’s home, Acevedo asked them an ominous question: “Did you find her?”
It’s not Lewis’ killer or the circumstances of her death that her family will remember.
Her grandfather, Jerry Martin, will focus on the little tricks his granddaughter used to play to make him smile — making him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the jelly or offering him a tall glass of Kool-Aid without the sugar.
Her father, Eric Lewis, will remember how, as a little girl, she brought home animals in need, first a little black dog then a cat named Paws, followed a handful of gerbils, hamsters, turtles, fish and once — to her mother’s horror — a large ball python he carefully wrapped around her neck before she skipped inside.
Shyeanne was barely 4, he said, but she wasn’t at all scared.
“She had this big goofy smile on her face and kept telling me, ‘Mommy, it’s fine,” as I yelled at her father to get that snake out of my house — it was longer than she was!,” Martin said in an interview after the sentencing. “The snake didn’t stick around long enough to get a name.”
As Shyeanne grew older, she doted on a Maltese-poodle mix named Precious. She brought the pup home before it turned a year old and the two were inseparable after, even posing together for her senior pictures at Chamberlain High School.
Now, Precious lives with Lewis’ parents and their pitbull Zoey. The dog seems to miss Lewis, her parents said, but like her former owner shows no fear.
As she neared high school graduation, Lewis began to get serious about building a life where she could help others.
She thought about becoming a veterinarian but didn’t want to see animals in pain. She didn’t want to see people in pain either, so nursing was out. Instead, she pursued marine biology. She made good grades and received associate’s degrees from Hillsborough Community College. Her mother didn’t know she had applied to the University of South Florida until she received a text message with her acceptance letter in January 2017.
At first, it seemed as if life was giving back to Lewis much of the love, kindness, and perseverance she put into it. She was ahead of schedule for graduation. At the same time, she excelled at her two jobs — as manager of a Pizza Hut near campus and as a team leader helping disabled passengers at Tampa International Airport.
She made enough money to support herself, pay for school and pay rent on her own apartment in Andover Club. In the days before her death, she told her mother she was looking into buying a house close to theirs so she could start her career with her family by her side.