Ray Lewis' Murder Trial To Begin

Monday, May 15th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ATLANTA (AP) — It was 4 a.m. on Jan. 31, and the nightclubs of Atlanta's trendy Buckhead district were sending post-Super Bowl revelers into the cold night.

A fight broke out among several young men, and soon two of them lay on the ground, fatally stabbed. A limousine roared from the scene when someone fired a gun at it.

Those are the few undisputed facts in the murder trial of star Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis that begins Monday with jury selection.

He and co-defendants Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting are charged with murder in the deaths of Jacinth ``Shorty'' Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24.

Prosecutors have said in court documents that Lollar and Baker argued with Lewis and his friends after they left Cobalt Lounge. Lollar and Baker ran away after seeing their foes had knives, the documents said, and Lewis, Sweeting and Oakley chased them down.

``Witnesses observed Lewis grab and punch Lollar in the chest area,'' the documents read. ``Sweeting, who was observed with a knife seconds earlier, also punched Lollar in the stomach. During the beating, Lollar was stabbed approximately four times.

``Oakley pursued and ultimately caught Baker. Oakley punched and beat Baker in his torso. ... During this beating, Baker was stabbed approximately four times.''

Lewis' lawyers are expected to argue he didn't stab anyone and acted as peacemaker.

``He did not have a knife; he did not use a knife,'' lawyer Ed Garland said soon after being hired by Lewis in early February. Garland said Lewis was a ``horrified bystander'' who tried to prevent and then break up the fight.

But if the prosecution can convince a jury that Lewis participated in the brawl that led to the two deaths, he can be convicted of murder even if he didn't stab anyone.

``It's like the lookout in a bank robbery getting charged with murder if one of the robbers shoots and kills someone,'' Erik Friedly, spokesman for the district attorney, said in February.

Lawyers for Oakley and Sweeting have indicated they may argue self-defense.

Bruce Harvey, Oakley's attorney, asked Judge Bonner to bar people from referring to Baker and Lollar as victims and said one of them hit his client over the head with a champagne bottle.

Oakley and Sweeting are small-time criminals — each with a long arrest record — with unlikely dreams of hitting the big-time in the entertainment business.

Lewis has a four-year, $26 million contract with the Ravens and is one of the NFL's best defensive players.

``He knows how different his life is as a professional athlete,'' said Kathleen Hessert, owner of Sports Media Challenge, a Charlotte media relations company that advises college and professional athletes. ``He knows how it feels to have a multimillion-dollar contract in his hands and he knows he could lose it all.''