ATLANTA -- Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, jailed on murder charges in the stabbing of two men outside a nightclub, was involved in the fight and threw at least one punch at the victims, a key witness has told homicide detectives.
The statement, which a source familiar with the investigation attributes to Lewis' limousine driver, Duane Fassett of Severn, puts the star football player in the midst of a fight that ended in two deaths.
Though there is no suggestion that Lewis wielded the knife, the information is consistent with a police affidavit that led to the player's arrest a week ago. That document is based on a single unnamed witness, reportedly Fassett, and alleges that Lewis was an active participant in the "punching, beating and stabbing" of the victims.
Attorneys for Lewis, 24, have disputed the one-paragraph affidavit, calling it full of "inaccuracies, assumptions and exaggerations." They say Lewis acted as a peacemaker and was unaware anyone had been stabbed until after he had left the scene.
"We have heard that the limo driver said there was physical contact" involving Lewis, said the player's lawyer, Donald F. Samuel. "What we do not know is if that means he was trying to pull people off to get them into the limo and get them to safety."
Fassett's attorney, Richard B. Irwin, said yesterday that "it's a false assumption to make that my client is a star witness against Ray Lewis. He told them what he saw and what he didn't see."
Police investigating the deaths of Richard Lollar, 24, and Jacinth Demarus Baker, 21, on Jan. 31 have had little to say all week. An Atlanta police spokesman did not return telephone calls yesterday.
"We hear a lot of things," an Atlanta homicide detective said yesterday, "but we're not saying anything. The investigation is progressing every day."
The stabbings occurred outside the Cobalt Lounge in the Buckhead entertainment district after members of Lewis' entourage argued with the victims after a star-studded Super Bowl party, according to reports of what witnesses have said.
The limousine rented by Lewis sped away as someone opened fire, hitting the 40-foot vehicle several times. Police have been trying to locate the passengers for a week. Lewis is the only person charged in the case.
Through his employer, Fassett has said repeatedly that Lewis did not stab anyone and that he saw who did but does not know who they are.
Lead defense attorney Edward T.M. Garland has said his investigators have found three witnesses to support Lewis' story and that his client knows nicknames of some of those who might be responsible for the stabbings.
Authorities have said that police found three knives in the limousine, though officials have not determined whether any of them were used in the stabbings.
Lewis' lawyers would not comment yesterday on news reports that police found receipts for knives in his room at the Georgian Terrace hotel.
A bail hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 14, though defense lawyers are trying to get him freed earlier. A preliminary hearing is set for Feb. 24, but it would not be required if Lewis is indicted by a Fulton County grand jury, which meets tomorrow.
Atlanta homicide detectives went to Maryland to interview a person they had sought for questioning -- A.J. Johnson, a former University of Maryland football player who tried out for the Miami Dolphins.
Johnson said yesterday that he was questioned by Atlanta detectives at his home in Laurel on Friday. He has denied being in Atlanta during Super Bowl weekend and said he threw a small party for friends that night.
The source, who declined to be identified, said police are close to ruling Johnson out as a suspect.
Johnson had little to say yesterday. "You call them," he said, referring to Atlanta police, who publicly named him last week as a person they wanted to question. "I don't know nothing. I don't want to talk about it. My lawyer told me not to talk."
Kwame King, also believed to have been in the limo, is in Atlanta and cooperating with authorities, his mother, Simone Brewer, said yesterday. She said that King returned home to Florida "after the incident" but went back to Atlanta last week.
"Lawyers for Lewis and the [district attorney] called and wanted him to make a statement," Brewer said. "As far as I know, he's still in Atlanta."
Asked if her son told her anything about the stabbings, she said: "I really don't know anything about that."
King grew up across the street from Lewis in Lakeland, Fla., and the two have been described as good friends. Efforts to locate King in Atlanta have been unsuccessful. Police will not say whether they have spoken to him.
Lewis, an NFL defensive star, was to have played yesterday in his third Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Instead, he spent his sixth day behind bars in the Atlanta City Detention Center.