Lewis Testifies for the Prosecution

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

ATLANTA (AP) — NFL star Ray Lewis testified today that a co-defendant showed him how he repeatedly stabbed a man during a fatal street brawl after the Super Bowl.

Lewis said he talked to Joseph Sweeting when they returned to a hotel following the Jan. 31 fight outside an Atlanta nightclub that left two men stabbed to death.

Sweeting said, ``Every time they hit me, I hit them,'' Lewis testified, showing how Sweeting brandished a knife between his fingers and told him how he struck the victim.

The Baltimore Ravens linebacker also said he saw the other co-defendant, Reginald Oakley, and another member of Lewis' group, Carlos Stafford, fighting with one of the victims, Jacinth Baker.

``That was a frantic fight,'' Lewis said. ``They (were) really going at.''

Murder and assault charges against Lewis were dropped Monday after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice and agreed to testify about what he saw during the brawl.

Lewis, who could have faced life in prison, was given a year's probation.

Lewis told jurors today that Oakley was the aggressor in the fight. He testified he saw Oakley punch Baker four or five times in the chest and saw Stafford kicking him.

Lewis also contradicted other testimony that he was involved in the fight.

``Did you take part in this incident,'' District Attorney Paul Howard asked. ``Never,'' Lewis responded.

Lewis said he and his group of six friends were leaving a party after the Super Bowl when Oakley approached the men.

``Reginald was the aggressor at the time that I was walking up. He was really hostile toward the other two guys,'' Lewis said, looking frequently at Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, who is also charged with murder.

``The other two guys were just standing there with a posture of `whatever,''' Lewis said.

At that point, Lewis testified, one of the victims struck Oakley on the head with a bottle, spurring a fight that quickly escalated to ``chaos.''

``Everybody was just throwing fists, everybody was just punching,'' he said.

Sweeting and Oakley were charged with murder, felony murder and aggravated assault in the Jan. 31 stabbings of Baker and Richard Lollar, both of suburban Decatur, after a Super Bowl party.

``No matter what Ray Lewis says, the jury will not find Joseph guilty,'' Sweeting's lawyer, Steve Sadow, said Monday.

During probation, Lewis must remain employed and not use drugs or alcohol. He will also pay one-third of the prosecution's court costs. the NFL said he could be fined but won't be suspended.

``He was an innocent man, wrongly accused, and who's been through an awful ordeal,'' defense attorney Ed Garland said. ``Today he has been exonerated.''

After two weeks of testimony, no witnesses reported seeing the 25-year-old player with a knife. Only one — an admitted con man currently in jail — said Lewis was actively involved in the fight.

Police and friends testified that Lewis had tried to cover up his role in the deaths by misleading officers and telling people with him the night of the fight to ``Keep your mouth shut.''

``He fully acknowledges his responsibility for those acts,'' Garland told Judge Alice Bonner.

Attorneys for the other defendants criticized the agreement, saying there was no reason for Lewis to plead guilty because prosecutors had such a weak case.

``The chances of this guy getting convicted of anything were as likely as John Rocker winning the Anti-Defamation League's lifetime achievement award,'' said David Wolfe, Oakley's lawyer.

The district attorney said he was disappointed in many witnesses whose testimony differed from earlier statements made to investigators, but said he didn't regret prosecuting 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.''

Howard said his office is investigating another person about the killings based on a videotaped statement Ray Lewis gave to prosecutors Sunday. He declined to name the suspect.

Lewis, the leading tackler in the NFL last year, has a four-year, $26 million contract with the Ravens. The team said Monday he will be welcome to rejoin the club at a voluntary minicamp next week.

Lewis' record could be expunged if he successfully completes his sentence.