Defense for Lewis seeks speedy trial

Linebacker's murder trial could begin by early June

February 20, 2000|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis has formally requested a hurry-up schedule for his Atlanta murder trial, a step that could have the proceedings get under way by early June.

"We have filed a demand for speedy trial," Lewis attorney Don Samuel said yesterday.

Under Georgia law, a murder defendant has a right to demand a trial within two, two-month terms of the court. In Lewis' case, that means a trial has to be under way by June 30.

Samuel said, however, that prosecutors often ask a judge to begin earlier in case the proceedings end in a mistrial or a hung jury. A retrial also would have to be under way by June 30 or the prosecutors would have to drop the case.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Alice D. Bonner has scheduled an arraignment in the case for March 10. She will convene a meeting Wednesday with the attorneys in the case, during which she will consider whether to modify or continue the gag order imposed by the bail hearing judge.

Prosecutors in the case have complained that Lewis violated the gag order with his declaration of innocence Thursday. Samuel disagrees. He said a defendant is allowed to make such statements.

The filing for a speedy trial was made Friday. It can be revoked by the defense team anytime.

Unless they request to sever their cases, the two co-defendants of Lewis, Reginald Oakley and Joseph L. Sweeting, will see their cases tried at the same time. Oakley and Sweeting remain in jail with no bond hearing scheduled as of Friday.

Lewis, released on $1 million bond, has returned to his Baltimore County home. He has been charged with murder and assault in the stabbing deaths of two men outside an Atlanta bar on Jan. 31.

Should a quick trial end in acquittal, Lewis could join the Ravens for the start of training camp in late July with no restrictions.

Jerome Froelich, a former state and federal prosecutor, drew an analogy to the O. J. Simpson criminal case. There, prosecutors moved too quickly to indict and defense attorneys countered by seeking a speedy trial motion, he said.

"That's what jammed [prosecutors]," Froelich said. "They didn't get some tests back till after the trial."

Baltimore attorney Dwight Pettit said the defense is making a smart move. "Just in what I have seen, the state is so pressed for evidence, it would be the better strategy to go ahead and press them, make them play ball right away," Pettit said. Pettit represents the woman who filed assault charges against Lewis in Baltimore.

He added, "Usually, it's in the defendant's best interest to have time. But in this case, it might be best to maintain the public pressure and make them produce what they have."

For now, it remains unclear whether the three defendants will be tried together. For instance, a death penalty case would automatically separate the defendants.

Steve Sadow, who represents Sweeting, said any of the attorneys can also request to have their cases tried separately. But he doesn't envision filing such a motion, and would be surprised if Oakley's attorney files such a request.

"I do not envision anyone asking for it, other than possibly Ray Lewis." Sadow said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this article.

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