Lewis Case Prosecutors Disappointed

Tuesday, June 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) — A prosecutor is ``deeply disappointed'' that a jury acquitted two friends and former co-defendants of football star Ray Lewis on murder and assault charges, saying there was enough evidence even though some witnesses changed their stories.

After three weeks of testimony, jurors deliberated less than five hours Monday before returning the verdicts in the trial of Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley.

They and Lewis were charged with murder, felony murder and aggravated assault in the Jan. 31 deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar, who were stabbed during a street fight outside a nightclub after the Super Bowl.

Lewis, the NFL's top tackler last season with the Baltimore Ravens, reached a plea agreement last week, pleading guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction-of-justice charge in exchange for testifying. He will serve a year of probation.

``The irony of this case is the only person convicted in this case was Ray Lewis,'' said Bruce Harvey, Oakley's lawyer.

The Ravens said Lewis would not comment on the acquittals.

District Attorney Paul Howard said the verdict allowed two guilty men to go free.

``We are deeply, deeply disappointed in the verdict,'' the prosecutor said. ``We thought that we had presented ... substantial evidence that we thought should have resulted in a verdict of guilty for these defendants.''

He wanted to ask jurors why they acquitted, but members of the panel voted not to speak with him, defense attorneys or reporters.

Howard said there was enough evidence to convict the defendants and he would do nothing differently if he had a second chance.

However, he was disappointed that some witnesses changed their stories, and said most of the people who were with Lewis did everything possible to hide information from prosecutors.

The biggest setback was Duane Fassett, Lewis' limousine driver, who was expected to be the state's star witness. Instead of testifying that he saw Lewis hit someone, Fassett said Lewis only drew back a fist and never struck anyone.

Howard said witnesses changed stories because of the intense media coverage. ``A lot of people don't want to sit in front of the whole country and finger someone,'' Howard said.

Relatives of the victims wept outside the courtroom.

``This is ridiculous,'' said Faye Lollar, Lollar's aunt. ``That money sure did buy a lot of people.''

Lewis was the only witness who testified to seeing a knife in anyone's hand. He said Sweeting, Oakley and another friend, Kwame King, bought knives at a sporting goods store one day before the Super Bowl. King never appeared in court.

Lewis testified that after the fight Sweeting showed him a knife, made punching motions with it and said ''`Every time they hit me, I hit them.'''

Howard said he may bring charges against other people who were in Lewis' limousine, although those will not likely be murder charges.

``We thought we had the principal doers of this act, and that's still the case,'' Howard said.