Lewis' lawyer seeks release

There's no evidence star linebacker had a knife, attorney says Police 'made a mistake' Authorities continue hunt for companions of Ravens player

February 04, 2000|By Peter Hermann and Ann LoLordo | Peter Hermann and Ann LoLordo,Sun Staff

ATLANTA -- Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, jailed on murder charges in the stabbing deaths of two men, did not have a knife and was unaware that members of his entourage were involved in a dispute that ended in the slayings, his lawyer said yesterday.

Edward T. M. Garland, a prominent Atlanta attorney, said police rushed to arrest his client despite having no evidence linking him to the fatal stabbings that occurred Monday after the player and a group of eight left a Super Bowl party in a bar in the trendy Buckhead neighborhood that was crowded with football revelers.

The 24-year-old multimillionaire player added Garland to his defense team Wednesday.

Garland, a partner in a high-profile law firm, quickly took the case to the media and held a news conference that was broadcast live on CNN. He said Lewis knows "some nicknames" of those who might be directly involved in the stabbings and will provide them to homicide detectives.

"He did not have a knife," Garland told a crowd of reporters at his office, a short distance from where the two men were stabbed hours after the National Football League's championship game at the Georgia Dome at the opposite end of the city.

"He did not use a knife," the attorney said. "He did not engage in a fight. He did not promote a fight. He is a peacemaker off of the football field. Sometimes overaggressive and overzealous police round up and charge everybody. We believe they made a mistake."

Atlanta police said they have solid reasons to charge Lewis and noted that a judge authorized an arrest warrant.

"A judge determined that there was probable cause that Mr. Lewis was involved in this crime in a significant way," said John Quigley, a police spokesman.

Garland is eager to get his client released from the Atlanta City Jail, where he is being held without bail, and is trying to move up a bail hearing scheduled Feb. 14.

The attorney said he has spoken to Lewis in his cell and described his client -- the league's highest-paid linebacker, earning $26 million over a four-year contract -- as eager to address the public when the investigation has concluded.

He characterized Lewis as a "horrified bystander" to a tragedy.

To Baltimore fans, he said Lewis "wants you to know that your faith in him is justified. He is absolutely, totally and completely innocent of any wrongdoing."

Police said yesterday that their investigation continues into the deaths of Jacinth Demarus Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24. The two friends were visiting the Buckhead neighborhood of restaurants, taverns and coffeehouses when they became embroiled in a dispute with people in Lewis' group.

A police affidavit supporting the warrant for Lewis' arrest alleges that he participated in beating and stabbing the men. Police cite information from an unidentified witness who apparently has known Lewis for a year.

Officials declined to release a copy of the warrant yesterday.

The medical examiner has raised doubts about whether the men were beaten before they were stabbed, saying they were killed with concentrated blows to precise areas of their torsos and that there was little evidence of a fight.

Police said officers recovered a handgun near the scene but that they have not linked it to bullets fired at Lewis' rented limousine as it sped away.

The medical examiner's office has said police found three knives in Lewis' limo but have not been able to determine whether they were used in the killings.

Quigley also confirmed that investigators want to talk to Kwame King and someone named A.J. Johnson in connection with the killings, because they believe both men were in Lewis' limo the morning of the slayings.

"We want to hear what they have to tell us," Quigley said, stressing that neither is considered a suspect.

King grew up in Lewis' hometown of Lakeland, Fla. Family members have denied that King was involved.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution identified A.J. Johnson as a former University of Maryland football player who tried out for the Miami Dolphins. Johnson, who is enrolled at the University of Maryland, denied being in Atlanta. He and his girlfriend say he was at a Super Bowl party at her home in Laurel. Johnson said it could be a case of mistaken identity.

Police have not publicly named any suspects other than Lewis.

Garland called the affidavit flawed and said his investigative team has identified at least three people who saw the stabbing and would testify that Lewis had nothing to do with the crime or any dispute that led to the incident.

The affidavit is full of "inaccuracies, assumptions and exaggerations," Garland told reporters.

The driver of Lewis' black stretch limousine, Duanne Fassett of Maryland, apparently has told investigators that he saw the stabbing and that Lewis was not involved. The driver's lawyer, Dave Irwin, said yesterday that neither he nor Fassett would comment on what his client told authorities.

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