Work in Sports
Lewis trial: Day 3
Prosecution's star witness grilled by defense attorneys
Posted: Thursday May 25, 2000 11:43 PM
ATLANTA (AP) -- Defense attorneys poked holes in the testimony of the prosecution's star witness in the Ray Lewis murder trial Thursday, highlighting inconsistencies in his statements, shortcomings in his memory and his admission that he has bad hearing.
Duane Fassett, the driver of Lewis' rented stretch Navigator limousine, was considered the most important witness for the prosecution because he told investigators that he saw Lewis and his two co-defendants fighting with the two victims, that he heard the co-defendants admit that they stabbed the men and that Lewis told him to lie to police.
In his testimony, Fassett said he saw Lewis raise his hand during the brawl, but never saw him strike anyone.
"I didn't see him throw a punch," he said. "I didn't see it land."
Fassett also testified that Lewis told his friends several times to stop fighting and get in the limousine -- bolstering the defense claim that Lewis acted as a peacemaker.
Lewis, a linebacker with the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL's leading tackler last season, faces murder and other charges with his friends Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting. They could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar, both of nearby Decatur, died of multiple stab wounds Jan. 31 after a post-Super Bowl party. Lewis, 25, was in Atlanta with friends to take part in Super Bowl week activities.
Under questioning by District Attorney Paul Howard, Fassett testified that he liked Lewis a great deal. Fassett seemed pained when forced to admit that after the brawl, Lewis told everyone in the limousine to "just keep your mouth shut and don't say nothing."
"I think Ray said his NFL career wasn't going to end because of this or like this," Fassett said.
Fassett said that after Lewis and the others left the nightclub, Lewis, Oakley and Sweeting -- whom Fassett knew by their nicknames, Derby and Shorty, respectively -- got into a fight with the two victims.
Fassett said he saw Oakley go after Baker in one direction, flip him to the ground and then punch him several times in the chest. Sweeting and Lewis went in another direction after Lollar, Fassett said, where Sweeting pinned him against a tree and punched him.
Fassett said he saw Lewis raise him arm and cock his fist, as if to strike, but never saw Lewis actually hit anyone. He also said he didn't see anyone with a knife but did hear a bottle break and believed someone had been hit over the head with one.
Even before defense attorneys began to cross-examine Fassett, the judge allowed them to point out that Fassett told investigators that he had bad hearing and sometimes had trouble understanding the speech of black males, something he denied in his testimony Thursday.
Bruce Harvey, attorney for Oakley, played on Fassett's hearing problem by cupping his hands and shouting when Fassett said he didn't hear a question. Later, Harvey asked Fassett, "Can you hear me all right, my friend?"
The defense hammered Fassett on inconsistencies in his statements to police and his testimony Thursday and argued that Fassett, who stands about 5-foot-8, couldn't have seen over the limo to witness the events he later described to investigators.
Earlier Thursday, Judge Alice D. Bonner scolded prosecutors for turning over evidence that could have helped the defense case. Bonner warned Howard not to let such a lapse happen again.
Defense attorneys had argued Wednesday that prosecutors should have informed them that Jeff Gwen, a friend of the two victims, had corrected a mistake he made in initial statements to police.
Gwen first told police that Lewis struck one of the victims. He later told investigators the earlier statement was a mistake, and that he had seen Lewis only "tussle" with one of the victims.
Defense attorneys argued that the corrected statement showed Lewis was not actively participating in the street fight that preceded the stabbings and that Gwen is an unreliable witness whose statements are riddled with contradictions.
The judge ruled that the prosecution violated the Brady ruling, which requires the state to share with the defense any evidence that could help the defendants.