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Lewis murder charges dropped

Ravens star accepts misdemeanor charge, will testify

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Monday June 05, 2000 09:31 PM

  Ray Lewis The prosecution's case against Lewis suffered setbacks when key witnesses provided conflicting testimony. AP

ATLANTA ( -- 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.

Art Modell's Statement
The following is the text of a statement released to by Baltimore Ravens president and owner Art Modell:

"From the beginning of this tough situation for all involved, we believed in and supported Ray Lewis. We also believe in the court system and the due process that found Ray to be innocent of the very serious charges. He can now get on with his life, including his work with the Ravens.

"As I said at Ray's bond hearing in February, Ray is a good young man. Even during these difficult past four months, he has made the effort to help his family, his teammates, and others who rely on his good will and generosity.

"It will be great to see Ray back in our facilities and on the field soon." 

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.

Paul Tagliabue's Statement
The following is a statement from NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue:

"Today's developments will help put this tragic incident behind us. Ray Lewis has been entirely cleared of the charge that he was responsible
for the loss of life that occurred in Atlanta in late January.

"There are many lessons to be learned as we review this case. If anyone in the NFL needed a reminder that high-profile professional athletes need to be extraordinarily careful in their associations and activities, Ray Lewis' experience provides that reminder.

"We will continue to work as hard as we can to ensure that our players do not become involved in these types of situations." 
Sports Illustrated's Peter King reported Monday that the NFL likely will fine Lewis, but he will not be suspended based on the fact that Lewis was innocent of charges of murder, despite pleading guilty to obstruction of justice.

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:

  • Duane Fassett, the driver of Lewis' rented limousine, reluctantly admitted on the stand that after the brawl Lewis told everyone in the stretch Lincoln Navigator to "just keep your mouth shut and don't say nothing."

  • Evelyn Sparks, who was riding in the limousine, said she saw another passenger dump a white hotel laundry bag into a garbage bin outside a fast food restaurant. Prosecutors say the bag contained Lewis' bloodstained white suit, which has never been found.

  • Sparks also said a photograph of Lewis' entourage, taken at the Cobalt Lounge on the night of the killings, was destroyed by Jessica Robertson, a woman described as Lewis' girlfriend. "She said she burned it," Sparks testified.

    National Football League's
    Prohibited Conduct Policy
    "It will be considered conduct detrimental for Covered Employees to engage in [or to aid, abet or conspire to engage in or to incite] violent criminal activity. This policy will be applicable to all criminal conduct involving violence which occurs after the Covered Employee commences negotiations for employment with the NFL, any NFL club or related entity [including, in the case of players, those drafted by an NFL club as well as those under contract of employment] and will include all such conduct occurring after that date."
    Click here for the entire text of the NFL's Violent Crime Policy.

    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.

    Related information
    All-Pro linebacker, co-defendants face murder charges
    Defense, prosecutor get heated Friday at Lewis trial
    Defense: Insufficient evidence merits directed verdict
    Ed Garland, Ray Lewis' attroney, says his client didn't see anyone with a knife during the night of the murders. (181 K)
    According to Garland, Lewis knows he should have coorperated with the police. (230 K)
    Garland criticizes the prosecution's handling of the case against Lewis. (191 K)
    District attorney Paul Howard thinks prosecuting Lewis was a justifiable decision. (183 K)
    Howard thinks Lewis' testimony will be crucial to his case against the other two defendants. (161 K)
    Ravens head coach Brian Billick gives Lewis credit for having faith in and working with the court system. (267 K)
    Ravens owner Art Modell feels the stress of going through a murder trial is punishment enough for Ray Lewis. (136 K)'s Peter King feels the NFL mad a hypocritical decision in not suspending Ray Lewis. (235 K)
    Shannon Sharpe says Lewis' friends and teammates believed in his innocence. (171 K)
    Ravens safety Rod Woodson says Lewis' return will have a positive impact on team morale. (77 K)
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    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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