Oakley asks trial not with Lewis

Raven's co-defendant requests separate trial on murder, assault, too

February 29, 2000|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

One of Ray Lewis' co-defendants in the killings outside an Atlanta nightclub has requested his own trial and asked for separate proceedings on the assault and murder charges he faces.

Reginald Oakley, 31, formerly of Baltimore, has been indicted along with Lewis, 24, a linebacker for the Ravens, and Joseph L. Sweeting, 34, of Miami on two different types of charges for murder and one for assault. The charges stem from an early morning melee on Jan. 31 in the trendy Buckhead neighborhood after the Super Bowl.

Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, of Decatur, Ga., died of stab wounds to the heart in the fight.

Yesterday, an attorney for Oakley filed a barrage of motions in Atlanta's Fulton County Superior Court. One of the motions seeks to separate his trial from those of Lewis and Sweeting.

Oakley's attorney, Bruce S. Harvey of Atlanta, said he may eventually withdraw the separate-trial demand, which is granted automatically under Georgia criminal law, but made it to preserve his client's options.

"I have no idea what we will be seeking and won't until I see the evidence. These are non-particularized motions made to protect Mr. Oakley's rights against all possibilities known to man to cover every possibility on earth and also on Mars," Harvey said.

In his motion, Harvey notes that trying defendants together can unfairly complicate the case if each offers irreconcilable defenses. It also means jurors sometimes hear damning evidence against one defendant that is not directly related to the others but can affect their viewpoints.

Harvey also asked for one trial on the murder counts and another on the assault charges. The evidence that prosecutors will use for the assault case may unfairly prejudice jurors on the question of the murder charges, Harvey contends.

Legal experts say defendants in such cases often attempt to sever their trials so they can more easily try to pin the crime on one of their co-defendants. The tactic of breaking the case into separate trials by charge is designed to avert the tendency of jurors to compromise by finding someone guilty on a lesser charge when they are unwilling to convict on murder.

It is difficult to persuade a judge to go along with separate trials for related charges, said Jerome Froelich, a prominent Atlanta defense attorney and former prosecutor who is not involved in the case.

"You want them to try the murder case first. You get a cleaner trial that way and there's less a chance of the jury `plea-bargaining' the case," Froelich said.

Oakley also requested a speedy trial. Under Georgia law, such a request is automatically granted and in this case means a trial must begin by June 30. Lewis and Sweeting have already made similar requests, and a trial for all three is tentatively scheduled to begin May 15.

In other motions yesterday, Oakley waived his right to submit his non-guilty plea in person to the judge at an arraignment set for March 10. He instead did it yesterday in his filings. "I don't see the point in exercising that formality," Harvey said of an in-person arraignment.

Sweeting waived his right to arraignment last week. Lewis' legal team has not decided yet whether to go through with the arraignment, said Jana L. Harris, one of his attorneys.

As for severing the trial for its defendant or separating the charges, Harris said, "We're looking at every type of motion that we would need to file." Motions are due by April 17.

Steve Sadow, representing Sweeting, said he will not seek to sever the trial of his defendant and is unlikely to seek separate trials on the murder and assault charges. "You can assume if I haven't requested it, I don't want it," he said.

The other defendants could oppose breaking up the trial by charge, but Sadow and Harris said they have not decided whether to do that. One thing they will join Harvey in seeking is an expanded right to bar prospective jurors during the jury selection process that will begin May 12.

Harvey asked yesterday for additional "peremptory" challenges to potential jurors.

Oakley, a native of North Carolina, was convicted there over a period of a few years for embezzlement, resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer and various traffic offenses. He escaped from jail at one point, but was recaptured and later paroled.

In Baltimore, he lived in an apartment on Park Avenue and although he had been evicted, neighbors reported seeing him in the building as recently as a week before the Super Bowl.

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