Lewis' murder trial set to begin May 15

Georgia judge meets Ravens linebacker's request for fast start

February 24, 2000|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis will get the speedy trial he asked for: The judge who will preside set a trial date yesterday of May 15 on the murder charges.

During a meeting with attorneys yesterday evening, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Alice D. Bonner established a schedule and reinforced a gag order issued in the Georgia case.

Lewis had exercised his right under Georgia law to a speedy trial, filing a motion that required the case be under way by June 30.

In setting an earlier date, Bonner allowed for delays in jury selection or a mistrial. Under the speedy trial law, a case may stretch beyond the mandatory start date. But if it ends in a mistrial and isn't begun again by June 30, charges must be dropped.

"With the demand for a speedy trial and the potential for a lengthy jury selection, the judge decided to get it under way early. That's fine with us," said Jana L. Harris, an attorney for Lewis, in Atlanta.

Erik Friedly, a spokesman for the Fulton County district attorney, had no comment on the trial date, which is Lewis' 25th birthday.

If Lewis is acquitted, he could be back in a Ravens uniform by the time the team convenes training camp in Westminster. The team has scheduled a voluntary passing camp for the first week of June, and a full-team minicamp the next week. Regular training camp begins the last week of July.

The team and the National Football League have not decided whether they will let Lewis participate in team events while the case is in process.

University of Baltimore Law School Professor Barbara Mello said the schedule is rapid. Maryland's law requires a case be under way 180 days from indictment, but judges can, and often do, grant extensions.

"It's pretty fast, but it isn't really a terribly complex case," said Mello, who teaches criminal case procedure.

Often in a murder trial, the prosecutors have the bulk of their case prepared by the time an indictment is issued and the defense needs extra time to react. The Lewis defense team's desire for a rapid turnaround suggests confidence on its part, she said.

"I would tend to think it is significant that his own attorneys said, `Let's get it going,' " she said.

The judge also reinforced yesterday a gag order issued by a previous judge, extending it to Lewis' two co-defendants, Reginald Oakley, 31, formerly of Baltimore, and Joseph Sweeting, 34, of Miami.

Prosecutors have complained that Lewis violated the terms of the gag order by convening a news conference and asserting his innocence last week. Lewis' attorneys say his public comments are permitted under the gag order's language.

"Judge Bonner reiterated to all concerned the whole concept of the gag order, explained that she was going to extend it to the additional defendants and their attorneys, and that satisfies us," Friedly said.

The next court date is scheduled for March 10. Lewis will be due in Atlanta then for arraignment, when he is expected to formally plead not guilty to the charges.

Unless one of the defendants requests otherwise, the three men will be tried together. They have been charged with six counts of murder and assault in the deaths Jan. 31 of two men outside an Atlanta nightclub.

Prosecutors say Lewis "actively participated" in the stabbing deaths of the two men and impeded the investigation that followed. Lewis' attorneys say he was trying to break up the melee and didn't know anyone had been stabbed when he left in a rented limousine.

Prosecutors have not announced whether they will seek the death penalty.

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