Work in Sports
Lewis murder charges dropped
Ravens star accepts misdemeanor charge, will testify
Posted: Monday June 05, 2000 09:31 PM
ATLANTA (CNNSI.com) -- A judge Monday approved a deal allowing Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis to avoid murder charges and jail time by pleading guilty to a misdemeanor and testifying against two co-defendants.
Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and Superior Court Judge Alice D. Bonner sentenced Lewis to 12 months' probation, the maximum sentence for a first-time offender. Under the terms of the sentence, Lewis can not use drugs or alcohol during the duration of the probation.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard refused to say how the plea agreement was brokered but said his office made the right decision to prosecute Lewis.
"A trial is an instrument to reach the truth, and I think that in many respects it has been shielded," Howard said. "We are continuing to try to bring the truth forward."
The prosecution waived any further charges against Lewis.
"It's a good day for Ray," defense attorney Don Samuel said he entered the courthouse for the day's court session.
Lewis walked into court Monday morning tossing the yellow tennis ball he has clutched throughout the first two weeks of testimony.
Samuel said Lewis will testify against his co-defendants as part of the deal, which also calls for aggravated assault charges against the linebacker to be dropped.
But the lawyer said Lewis' testimony won't be "devastating" to Sweeting and Oakley. He said Lewis never saw a knife during the fight.
Lewis is expected to testify Tuesday. Bonner sent the jurors home Monday morning, but defense attorneys asked her not to tell them about the plea.
On Sunday, Lewis' lawyers plea bargained for a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice and Lewis will testify as the prosecution continues its case against co-defendants Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting.
Prosecutors presented little proof that the Baltimore Ravens linebacker assaulted anyone during a Jan. 31 street fight that left two men dead.
"It seems like the prosecution is starting to run out of gas, and it doesn't seem like they had much in the tank in the first place," said Irwin R. Kramer, a defense attorney from suburban Baltimore who is following the case.
Without much direct evidence linking Lewis to the stabbings of Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker, prosecutors are trying to convince the jury that Lewis participated in a conspiracy to cover up the crime.
But that's not what he is charged with. Lewis and two friends, Sweeting and Oakley, are facing only the more serious charges of murder, felony murder and aggravated assault.
"There's no evidence of guilt here," said Samuel. "So all of the post-conduct circumstances are irrelevant."
Lewis has a four-year, $26 million contract with the Ravens and is one of the NFL's best defensive players. The team said Monday he will be welcome to rejoin the club at a voluntary minicamp next week.
Defense attorney Ed Garland said he and Lewis discussed the plea agreement thoroughly and went over his testimony before going to court.
"He said a prayer with me about his duties and his responsibilities and what he was doing and he was happy to go forward and let the truth -- all of it -- come out," he said.
Garland said Lewis' only crime was to tell his companions after the brawl that led to the deaths, "Keep your mouth shut," and giving an incomplete statement to police.
"He fully acknowledges his responsibility for those acts," Garland told Bonner after the plea was entered.
Lewis' defense attorneys admit that the NFL star gave a misleading statement to police on the morning after the killings, but there has been other testimony that suggests Lewis participated in some kind of cover-up:
All this can be used as circumstantial evidence of guilt. But it's more effective when combined with more solid evidence, Kramer said.
"What they have to do is produce evidence that Ray Lewis was involved in the fight that led to these deaths," Kramer said. "Without additional evidence, one has to question the strength of the prosecution's case."
Bonner also will have to weigh whether dismissing charges against one or more defendants will signal to the jurors that she considers the remaining ones to be guilty, Kramer said.
It has been a difficult two weeks for Howard, who at times has shown exasperation at witnesses who change their testimony on the stand and at a judge who sustains most objections made by the defense. But he says he is not discouraged.
"When you fight for justice and what you think is right ... you can't be dissuaded or frustrated," Howard said.
Howard will try to finish his case Monday or early Tuesday after calling forensics experts and medical examiners. He also would like to put the limousine driver back on the stand, but Fassett is fighting the second subpoena in Maryland.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.