Lewis, who has been named to the last three Pro Bowls, signed a four-year, $26 million contract extension in November 1998. Late this season first-year Ravens coach Brian Billick was warned about some of the company that Lewis was keeping. It wasn't hard to pick out Lewis during Super Bowl week. He wore a full-length white fur coat and was chauffeured around town in a 40-foot Lincoln Navigator limousine he had hired to ferry him from Baltimore to and around Atlanta. Lewis's attorney, Ed Garland, says about 10 people were in the limousine as it raced from the crime scene. "Ray did not know some of those people," Garland claims.
Whether Lewis is guilty of mere bad judgment or something far worse, his reputation will be forever scarred. Even if he's exonerated, he may have to look over his shoulder every day if the real killers think he fingered them. Phil Savage, Baltimore's director of college scouting, said last week that he thought the Ravens would have to beef up security at their practice facility and stadium if Lewis returns. For now, Baltimore bleeds. "The city is heartbroken," says Baltimore radio talk-show host Nestor Aparicio, who presented Lewis with his show's annual nice-guy award in 1998. "He's our first football hero since Bert Jones. The fans loved him. Ray Lewis was building a legend here."
The franchise was still the Cleveland Browns in the spring of 1995 when it dispatched a scout to Phoenix for the photo shoot for the Playboy All-America Team. The scout's job: Observe the players interacting with others and try to judge character and leadership. According to the scout's report, Lewis, a sophomore who was about to turn 20, came in as an unknown but after a half day of activities emerged as the unquestioned leader of the group. "When we interviewed Ray at the scouting combine before the 1996 draft," recalls one former Browns-Ravens executive, "he gave us detailed opinions—as if he were a scout—of all the players in the Big East and the players at the Florida schools. We were amazed. He knew more about the players than a lot of our scouts did."
Lewis was also familiar with trouble. Though he wasn't arrested, he was cited by Coral Gables, Fla., police as a suspect in an August 1994 bar brawl on the Miami campus. Six weeks later his girlfriend (now fianc�e) Tatyana McCall told police that Lewis had pushed her, struck her and grabbed her around the throat during an argument in his dorm room; no charges were filed. In September '95, McCall, the mother of Lewis's then three-month-old son, Ray Jr., got into an argument with Kimberlie Arnold, a former Lewis girlfriend. McCall and a friend who was at the scene told police that Arnold said to McCall, "You done messed with the wrong ho. I'm gonna put a bullet in your temple." Lewis was summoned and, according to some witnesses, shook Arnold in a threatening manner. Again, no charges were filed. Last November a woman claimed that Lewis and a friend roughed up her and two other women at a Baltimore-area bar; the charges are pending, though a prosecutor said last week that he may dismiss the case because a number of witnesses have refuted her accusation.
Nevertheless, the Ravens had no character worries listed in their scouting report when they selected Lewis with the 26th pick in the first round of the 1996 draft, and they weren't alone in that assessment. Four other teams contacted by SI said Lewis's character wasn't a concern as the draft approached. "I've looked over our reports on Ray since [the murders]," Savage says, "and I can find no red flags. One of our people had a good source on the Miami coaching staff, and he was very positive on Ray. Lawrence Phillips was in the same draft, and I remember telling [ Baltimore vice president of player personnel] Ozzie Newsome, 'If you draft [ Phillips], you'll go to sleep every night wondering if he's in trouble.' It was nothing like that with Ray."
Witnesses have given conflicting statements about what transpired at the Cobalt Lounge after closing. One said that angry words were exchanged after someone stepped on the foot of a member of Lewis's party in the club. Garland says witnesses he interviewed said that at least three groups were fighting, and that at least one person in the victims' group had a gun, but that Lewis was in the limo when the stabbings occurred. One witness said that a member of the victims' group broke a champagne bottle over the head of a member of Lewis's party. During the brawl, Garland says—citing witnesses—there was a mad rush away from the scene, and several strangers jumped into the limo. Shots rang out as the vehicle pulled away.
"I know for sure Ray didn't see a stabbing take place," says Lewis's civil attorney, Ron Cherry. "He may have some suspicions as to who did it, but I don't think he has a positive thought." Keith says, "Ray was a little tipsy. He doesn't know who killed those men." Georgia law, however, holds that someone can be convicted of murder if he aids in the commission of the crime or participates in another crime during the incident.
Lewis came within a few minutes of getting out of Adanta without being arrested. When first questioned on the morning of Jan. 31, Lewis told police that he had to catch a 12:40 p.m. flight to Honolulu for the Pro Bowl. He offered to return to Adanta immediately after the game if police had more questions. Then he dashed to the airport, only to arrive at the gate five minutes late. Upon finding out there were no nonstop flights to Honolulu for the rest of the day, Lewis planned to take the next day's 12:40 p.m. nonstop instead. Says Cherry, "That's hardly the act of a fleeing felon, is it?"
Lewis was arrested later that day. According to his agent, Roosevelt Barnes, the disbelief still hung over Lewis last Thursday. He had a bologna sandwich and water for dinner. Some 4,500 miles away his Pro Bowl replacement, San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau, dined on seafood chowder, grilled halibut, Caesar salad and fresh papaya juice. "[Lewis] had a look on his face like he's going to wake up soon, and it will all be over, like he's in an episode of The Twilight Zone]," says Barnes.
A family, a team and a league are left to pick up the pieces. Three days before the Super Bowl, Savage spoke to a Rotary Club in West Mobile, Ala. After the talk one businessman asked Savage if teams really consider character in their drafting decisions. Absolutely, Savage replied. In fact, he noted, the Ravens have passed on several questionable players.