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Murder charges dropped
Lewis to testify against others


Emerging details on Buckhead murders

From an article by Bill Rankin
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writer



NFL star Ray Lewis pleaded guilty today to a misdemeanor charge that will allow him to stay out of prison and escape murder charges in the Buckhead stabbing deaths of two Decatur men.

Lewis, 25, is now a witness for the prosecution and will testify against his former co-defendants, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting.

Ed Garland, Lewis' lead lawyer, also said the linebacker will give testimony "that affects more than the people here on trial."

Garland said his client is expected to take the witness stand Tuesday and that it has been "arranged" that Lewis will return and play this upcoming season for the Baltimore Ravens. During a brief plea hearing before Superior Court Judge Alice D. Bonner, Lewis answered questions with "yes" and "no," except to say "guilty" to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice.

The obstruction charge is for giving incomplete statements to police and demanding that those in his limousine keep quiet about the fatal fight.

Assistant District Attorney Clint Rucker said he will drop the murder, felony murder and aggravated assault charges against the All-Pro player. Lewis will testify that he did not see anyone stab a victim during the fight, Garland said.

Lollar's grandmother said she last spoke to Lollar about 9 p.m. Sunday. He told her he and friends were heading to a Super Bowl party.

"Ray saw no knife being used, but Ray will say what he saw during the fight and let the jury make those determinations," Garland said. Lewis agreed to pay one-third of the court costs to Fulton County for the prosecution of his case. That sum has yet to be determined, Bonner said.

Lewis pleaded guilty under the First Offender Act, which means if he stays out of trouble during the term of his probation, the misdemeanor charge will be expunged from his record.

After the plea agreement was approved this morning, Charita Lollar, cousin to Richard Lollar, told a reporter, "money talks."

"I thought if you were part of a crime in Georgia, you were held guilty," she said. "But in Atlanta if you have money . . . you'll walk out of here and play football."

She then shook her head.

Bruce Harvey, a lawyer for Oakley, said the prosecutors had just proved Lewis was a "liar" and now they want him to be their witness. "I plan to cross-examine the [expletive] out of him," the lawyer promised.


background


Lewis trial kicks off, but game it isn't

Ken Rosenthal


In every other NFL city, the season begins Sept.3. But for Baltimore, the season begins with that long-awaited matchup, the State of Georgia vs. Ray Lewis. For Baltimore, the season begins today.

Lewis' double-murder trial is expected to last from three to five weeks. When it ends, the Ravens will either be a legitimate playoff contender, or a team scrambling to replace a Pro Bowl middle linebacker.

If only this were a game.

Lewis will appear in a packed courtroom rather than a packed stadium, wear oh-so-serious eyeglasses rather than his trademark bandanna, confer quietly with his attorneys rather than talk trash with opponents.

The Ravens have yet to appear on "Monday Night Football," but they've made it to Court TV.

If only this were a game.

Two men - Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24 - were stabbed to death the morning after the Super Bowl in Atlanta. Bringing their murderers to justice is slightly more important than whether the Ravens can earn a wild card out of the AFC Central.

If Lewis is found guilty - and by "guilty," we mean the definition under Georgia law, not the shrill "but he didn't wield a knife!" defense offered by certain supporters - he will face up to life in prison.

Even if he is found not guilty, he might face suspension from the NFL, if commissioner Paul Tagliabue determines that he engaged in conduct detrimental to the league.

Conduct such as appearing in a sexually explicit mail-order video? Tagliabue could make that judgment, even if the video of Lewis and co-defendant Joseph Sweeting watching sex acts at a party in Mexico might not be admissible in the trial.

That the video might be the least of Lewis' offenses is a measure of how far our standards have fallen.

If only this were a game.

Lewis won't be cheered when he enters the courtroom. He won't be surrounded by sycophants, unless he counts his two co-defendants, Sweeting and Reginald Oakley. And he won't be in control of his fate.

In the end, the only opinions that matter will belong to those of the 12 jurors. Lewis can appear not guilty, then lose the verdict. He can appear guilty, then win.

The most positive outcome for the Ravens would be if Lewis was indeed determined to be a "horrified bystander," as his attorneys contend.

But what if Sweeting and Oakley are found guilty? What if they are shown to be more than just casual acquaintances of Lewis? What will the NFL and its fans think then?

There is much we don't know about what went down outside the Cobalt Lounge, and much we might never find out. Given the conflicting accounts, Lewis' attorneys might create a thicket of confusion, when all they need to do is plant a seed of reasonable doubt.

This trial isn't just about the victims and the defendants. It's also about the authorities in Atlanta and the state of Georgia, about the prosecution, about the police.

The officer who arrested Lewis, Lt. Mike Smith, is under internal investigation for allegedly making racist remarks to potential witnesses.

And Fulton County Superior Court Judge Alice Bonner sharply criticized a discrepancy in the notes of lead investigator Ken Allen in ruling that lawyers for the co-defendants could interview prosecution witnesses before the start of the trial.

The prosecution also has shown Arena League tendencies.

Assistant district attorney Clinton K. Rucker didn't exactly distinguish himself at Lewis' bail hearing, and the player was set free on a $1 million bond.

If Rucker's case against Lewis is as flimsy as it appeared that day - and granted, we've seen only what he wants us to see - he and the police will have an awful lot of explaining to do.

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