ATLANTA -- Authorities accused Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis yesterday of obstructing their investigation into the stabbing deaths of two men and prepared to seek murder indictments today against the player and two of his acquaintances.
Police and FBI agents launched a nationwide manhunt for Lewis' two associates, one from Baltimore and the other from Miami. Both are convicted felons.
City officials, in their first public comments on the high-profile case that grew out of Super Bowl revelry, accused Lewis -- who has been in custody since Jan. 31, the night of the killings -- of covering for his buddies by lying to detectives and even framing another acquaintance.
"Mr. Lewis has misled investigators and in some cases outright lied," said a visibly angry Deputy Atlanta Police Chief C. B. Jackson. "Mr. Lewis has obstructed this investigation. He has had evidence of a crime in Atlanta transported to all parts of the country."
Reginald Oakley, 31, of Baltimore and Joseph Sweeting, 34, of Miami were charged yesterday with two counts of murder. Police said each has been convicted of crimes that include assault, drug dealing and shootings.
In announcing the arrest warrants, city officials addressed days of pointed criticism from Lewis' lawyers and some fans who believe the star athlete never wielded a knife and was arrested based on flimsy evidence from one witness.
Mayor Bill Campbell said the media hype over Lewis, a multimillionaire as the highest paid linebacker in football, has obscured what he termed the brutal murder of Richard Lollar, 24, and Jacinth Baker, 21, two friends who splurged on a night at the star-studded Cobalt Lounge in pricey Buckhead.
"They were not celebrities," the mayor said of the victims. "They were not wealthy. They were not famous. They were just two men with families who will be missed. We will not let wealth or fame or celebrity thwart justice."
Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard said he will ask a grand jury today to indict Lewis, Oakley and Sweeting on formal murder charges. Lewis was arrested Jan. 31, and has been jailed without bail since.
Attorneys representing Lewis last night accused police and prosecutors with ignoring key evidence that they say clears their client of any wrongdoing. They lawyers said they tried to meet with Howard on Tuesday to share statements they have obtained from witnesses, and never got a return call.
"They made a case against a celebrity, and they plan to make it stick no matter what the facts are," said lead defense attorney Edward T. M. Garland. "My client made an offer to cooperate and it was answered with a sudden, ill-advised and un-investigated arrest for murder."
If Lewis, 24, is indicted today, a bail hearing scheduled for Monday will be postponed. Garland said he would seek such a hearing, at which time he promised to present evidence to exonerate his client, as quickly as possible.
Defense attorneys began contacting Ravens players yesterday about being character references for the bail hearing they had expected on Monday. Team owner Art Modell said he would speak on behalf of Lewis if there is a hearing.
He continued with his support of Lewis last night after listening to the police's account and new charges against Lewis.
"`I continue to believe in Ray Lewis and so do my players, coaches, front office personnel and entire organization," said Modell.
Police said the two men bought knives -- one of which has been seized as the murder weapon -- at a suburban Atlanta Sports Authority store on Jan. 29, as Lewis held an autograph signing session the day before the Super Bowl. They said officers found a receipt for the knives in Lewis' hotel room with his home phone number scrawled on the back.
Garland said Lewis simply wrote the number down when asked by his friend and did not know what the receipt was for. He conceded it was a mistake for Lewis to socialize with convicted felons, but stressed: "That does not make him guilty."
The slayings occurred shortly after 4 a.m. on Jan. 31 on a crowded street in Buckhead, one of Atlanta's most expensive entertainment districts.
"These were brutal and deliberate murders and came at at time of celebration and pride in our city," said Howard, the district attorney.
Jackson said Oakley's criminal record is "so extensive that I do not have time to detail it today." He said it includes convictions for assaulting a police officer, drug dealing, stealing a car and shooting a gun into an occupied house.
His Maryland record consists of a Baltimore County traffic ticket for driving on a suspended license. But he has a conviction for assault in North Carolina and in 1991 was charged with escaping from jail there.
Oakley was told to vacate his eighth-floor apartment on Park Avenue in downtown Baltimore by Jan. 31, the day of the stabbings, after residents said they complained to a building manager about his associates' presence near their homes.