Lewis to return to Md. after $1 million bail met

Suspect in killings not likely to flee, Georgia judge finds

Restrictions are imposed

In court on his behalf, preachers, principal, players and Art Modell

February 15, 2000|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- A Georgia Superior Court judge yesterday ruled that Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis can be freed on $1 million bail when she rejected arguments from prosecutors that the star football player would fail to show up for his trial on murder charges.

Lawyers for the 24-year-old Baltimore player said they will post $500,000 in cash and the rest in a bond backed by property to gain their client's release, which is expected today.

Lewis, who has been held without bail since Jan. 31 in the deaths of two men in the early morning hours after the Super Bowl, will be permitted to return to his home in Owings Mills, Md. He was indicted Friday with acquaintances Joseph L. Sweeting of Miami and Reginald Oakley of Maryland.

Superior Court Judge Doris L. Downs imposed a lengthy list of restrictions -- prohibiting Lewis from leaving Maryland, except to travel to Atlanta for his case, and from drinking alcohol or using drugs. She also imposed a 9 p.m. curfew on the highest-paid linebacker in football. A trial could be at least six months away.

"I loved what happened," Ravens owner Art Modell said last night after testifying on Lewis' behalf. "It's not a trial, it's not an acquittal. But it's an indication that the case is weak. ... Hopefully, the authorities will eventually see they don't have a case, and they'll drop the charges."

After morethan seven hours of testimony, Downs ruled 10 minutes after lawyers on both sides had completed their closing arguments. The court had heard from preachers, professional football players, a school principal, police, an FBI agent and Modell.

Sweeting, accompanied by his attorney, surrendered at Atlanta Police headquarters yesterday morning. Oakley is expected to surrender in Atlanta today, his lawyer said.

Police say that the three men fought with Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, outside the Cobalt Lounge after a star-studded party. Both men died of stab wounds, and police say Lewis and the others jumped into a rented limo and sped from the scene.

Downs termed the murder charges "a very serious case," but said the state failed to prove that Lewis will not show up in court.

"I'm happy for Ray and his family," Modell said. "His life and his career are at stake. He'll be back home soon and that's where he needs to be."

In the courtroom, Lewis' relatives reacted to the judge's ruling with happiness and hugged members of the defense team. Supporters grabbed cell phones and called friends in Maryland with the news.

Members of the victims' families left the courtroom in disbelief. They were not allowed to address the court because the judge ruled the prosecutor had exceeded his time limit. "This is to show you that money talks," said Joyce Lollar, the victim's aunt who noted that relatives had flown from Ohio in hopes of speaking.

"The Atlanta mayor told me justice would be done. We're still waiting."

The unusually long hearing, which the judge blamed on intense media interest, delved into many facets of this complex celebrity case, but came down to a relatively simple question: Who is the real Ray Lewis?

Defense lawyers portrayed him as a generous family man who has to be restrained from giving too much to charity, and as a helpful, quiet, humble lover of children and of God who wouldn't throw away his $26 million football contract by skipping out on bail.

Lewis' mother, Sunseria Keith, faced down a tough cross-examination by a prosecutor who asked her repeatedly and loudly how she could be sure her son is innocent.

"Because I gave him life," she said from the witness stand. "And raised him very well. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my son would not pick up a knife and kill someone. I raised him better."

But prosecutors painted a picture of a woman abuser and a womanizer who fled from the scene of a killing, lied to police to cover for a friend, disposed of incriminating evidence and paid for drug dealers to join him on expensive jaunts to Atlanta strip clubs.

"The conduct of this defendant is outrageous," said Clinton K. Rucker, assistant district attorney. "When two people were dying in the middle of the street, he didn't have time to pick up the phone and dial 911. But he did have time to call his agent, the man entrusted with his career. He doesn't deserve bond because he obstructed justice."

Lewis has not been accused of wielding the knife, but he is accused of being an active participant in a fight that ended with two deaths. If that is proven, he would be culpable.

Defense lawyers have claimed that Lewis was not involved in the fight and only tried to break it up. They said he might have thrown a punch to stop the fracas. They say he was about 100 feet from where the stabbings occurred, didn't see them and did not know anyone had been killed until hours later.

A parade of witnesses strongly backed Lewis' many charitable acts, and relatives testified how he raised his siblings in the absence of a father and how he pays for homes for his mother and bought her a Mercedes for Christmas.

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