Work in Sports
Super Bowl slayings
Does Ray Lewis' arrest for murder taint the game?
Posted: Friday March 03, 2000 02:02 PM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
ATLANTA -- Early on the chilly morning of January 31, as the city of Atlanta basked in the afterglow of maybe the best Super Bowl ever and revelers spilled out of an upscale bar in the Buckhead area of town, a fight broke out.
By the time it was over, two young men lay dying in the street, the victims of a brutal attack. And the NFL, which should have been sliding triumphantly into its off-season, was again forced to face its image as a haven for violent athletes.Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis -- one of the NFL's best young players and the leading tackler in the league this past season -- was one of three men police charged with the murders of two friends, a young barber and an aspiring artist.
Atlanta police are still trying to piece together what happened on East Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead that early Monday morning.
This much is clear: Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, two men who had come to Atlanta from Akron, Ohio, in search of opportunity, were stabbed to death not with wild swings of a knife, but by killers who apparently knew how to kill.
Ray Anthony Lewis, 24, admits being there when the fight that preceded the killings broke out. And two other men police call "longtime associates" of Lewis -- Reginald Oakley of Baltimore and Joseph Sweeting of Miami -- are also charged in the killings.
The murders occurred sometime around 4 a.m., about six hours after the St. Louis Rams beat the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV some seven miles away at the Georgia Dome. Sometime after Lewis left the Cobalt Lounge in Buckhead, his $3,000-a-day rented stretch limousine at the wait, a confrontation took place on the street.
Punches were thrown. A champagne bottle was broken over someone's head.
And, after the stabbings some 200 yards down the street from the Cobalt, Lewis and several other members of his entourage sped off in the Lincoln Navigator limo as gunshots rang out.
The Cobalt Lounge had been open for barely six months but it quickly became a hot nightspot in an area known for its nightclubs. During Super Bowl week, Michael Jordan was seen in the club, and Wayne Gretzky stopped by, too. Falcons running back Jamal Anderson held a charity function there that Lewis had attended earlier in the week.
The Cobalt's sleek, modern décor, its strict dress code and the fact that it caters to the best clientele around made it a player on the Buckhead scene almost from the start.
On the night after the Super Bowl, hundreds of people who paid up to $100 each to slip past its velvet ropes crammed into the club.
"A lot of celebrities, a lot of players in particular, really like to be in the middle of things," club owner Thomas Cook said.
Some witnesses report that an argument began when someone stepped on the foot of a person in Lewis' entourage. Other reports say an argument over football led to the fight.
Whatever started it, and whether the fight started in the club or in the street, the glitzy Cobalt will forever be linked with the Super Bowl killings on that bloody Monday morning.
"I think image is everything," Cook said. "This, obviously, isn't the image we want."
The same could be said for the NFL.
The trip to the Super Bowl was not the first time Ray Lewis had rented a limo from All Stretched Out Limousine Service in Glen Burnie, Md. It wasn't the first time Duane Fassett drove for him. Lewis was a frequent customer of the firm, according to owner Tony Toskov.
Lewis, of course, could afford to be loose with his money. He had signed a $26-million contract in November of 1998 -- complete with a $7-million signing bonus -- and he still could have richer contracts ahead.
So showing up in Atlanta with a driver in a $3,000-a-day limo was Lewis just being Lewis. Living large was his way.
Investigators have been busy re-tracing Lewis' movements after he left his home that week.
He left the Baltimore area on the Wednesday before the Super Bowl in the limo and may have stopped in Charlotte, N.C., to pick up some friends, according to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He stayed for awhile at the Georgian Terrace hotel, stopped into the Cobalt for Anderson's charity affair on Wednesday, accepted an award from the NFL Alumni on Friday night and signed autographs at an Atlanta-area sporting goods store on Saturday.
And sometime after midnight, just hours after the Super Bowl ended, Lewis, wearing a full-length fur coat, surrounded by several women, a couple of men and assorted other hangers-on, entered the Cobalt.
During the fight on the street a few hours later, Lewis was a "horrified bystander" and a "peacemaker," according to his lawyer. The legal team for Lewis has insisted the 6-foot-1, 245-pounder never threw a punch , though reports say Fassett told police he did. Even that may be in question, though, in a case that a judge has now put under a gag order.
Regardless, police say they have a murder weapon, said to have been purchased by one of Lewis' co-defendants at the sporting goods store where Lewis signed autographs.
Lewis is now free on $1 million bond, though the court has put restrictions on his movements. His two co-defendants remain in jail.
Lollar and Baker have been buried.
"You've heard it many times before, from my attorneys and from a lot of other people, but now you get to hear it from me: I am innocent," Lewis told a packed news conference in Baltimore after he was released. "But of course, I've been ordered by the court that I can't speak about the case, so I won't. All I can do is sit back and wait for justice to take its course ..."
Lewis is scheduled to be arraigned on the murder charges on March 10, when he is expected to plead not guilty.
His trial, which promises to be high profile, has been put on a fast track, as is his right under Georgia law. It is scheduled to begin on May 15. That's Lewis' 25th birthday.
Meanwhile, the Ravens and the NFL are waiting nervously. The team allowed Lewis to use its facilities to make his statement after his release from jail, and has publicly, if cautiously, backed him since his arrest. Owner Art Modell spoke on behalf of his player during the bond hearing.
But should Lewis be allowed to take part in team functions? Should he be allowed to practice or take part in mini-camps?
These are questions the league and the Ravens must face. The league also has a reputation at stake. Following a season in which the NFL implemented a much-publicized ban against the menacing "throat slash" gesture on the field, league officials already are talking about shoring up their policy against violence by players off the field.
The saga of Ray Lewis and the other two men charged with this crime is far from over. The tragedy that has befallen the families of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar is not over yet, either.
It many ways, this may never be over.
"We will not allow wealth or fame or celebrity to pervert justice. That is a commitment that is fundamental, and we will keep it," said grim-faced Atlanta mayor Bill Campbell at a press conference announcing the indictments of Lewis and his two co-defendants. "What we owe to the public and to the victims and to their families is justice. Nothing more, nothing less."