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Ray Lewis Murder Trial Begins

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ATLANTA (AP) — A blood trail connects Ray Lewis to two men fatally stabbed after a post-Super Bowl party, prosecutors said today. Defense attorneys portrayed the NFL star as a peacemaker who ``did not kill or stab anyone.''

In opening statements, District Attorney Paul Howard told jurors Lewis kicked and punched the victims in a fight outside an Atlanta nightclub Jan. 31. Howard did not say Lewis stabbed the men.

Howard said the driver of a limousine that sped from the scene would testify that Lewis said: ``Let's get ... out of here. Keep your ... mouth shut. My football career ain't gonna end like this.''

Lewis, a Baltimore Ravens linebacker and three-time NFL All-Pro, is charged with murder along with Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting in the stabbing of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar of Decatur.

Howard said prosecutors would show that blood from one of the defendants was found on Lewis' seat in the limousine and in Lewis' hotel room.

``You're going to be able to follow the blood trail that will lead you directly'' to Lewis and his co-defendants, Howard told jurors.

Howard said the limousine driver would testify that Sweeting and Oakley admitted to stabbing Baker and Lollar. Even if Lewis didn't stab anyone, he can be convicted of murder if the prosecution can convince a jury that Lewis participated in the brawl that led to the two deaths.

Defense attorney Ed Garland said Lewis never knew knives were used in the fight and tried to end it before he began begging his friends to get into the limousine. He denied Lewis kicked or punched the victims.

``All of Ray Lewis' actions were actions to attempt to stop the fight, to attempt to break up the fight,'' Garland said. ``He never stops attempting to get people back into the limousine.''

Lewis idly tossed a tennis ball before the trial today and sat expressionless during the prosecution's opening statements in Fulton Country Superior Court. Some of his relatives cried as Howard described the brawl.

Judge Alice Bonner said she would not sequester jurors but insist they ignore intense news coverage.

Bonner ruled Monday a statement Lewis made to police after the stabbings was admissible. Defense attorneys had argued that two Atlanta police officers coerced the statement by threatening to destroy Lewis' pro football career if he didn't cooperate.

Bonner concluded the statement was ``freely and voluntarily given'' and allowed it as evidence.

Lewis, who was staying at a friend's house in suburban Norcross on the morning after the killing, refused to go to the police station and give a statement based on the advice of a lawyer. Instead, he agreed to give a written statement to Atlanta police Lt. Michael Smith.

In that statement, Lewis named only two people in the limousine that was seen speeding from the scene. He did not name either Sweeting or Oakley.

``I was leaving ... Cobalt nightclub,'' Lewis' statement said. ``And on my way to my limousine ... a fight broke out way up past my limousine. We saw it, I grabbed my people, we hopped in my truck, we left. While we're driving off, we heard gun shots. We left the scene, and that is basically it.''

The jury consists of nine black women, one black man, one white man and one white woman.

All three men could be sentenced to life in prison. The trial is expected to last several weeks.
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