Lewis formally enters his plea of not guilty

Prosecutors not seeking death penalty in case

Pro Football

March 11, 2000|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- As relatives of the men stabbed outside a nightclub looked on, Ray Lewis yesterday stood and formally entered his not guilty plea, beginning the process that will lead to a trial on assault and murder charges in May.

"I'm not guilty, your honor," Lewis replied when Fulton County Superior Court Judge Alice Bonner asked for his plea.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard has decided to not seek the death penalty against Lewis and co-defendants Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley, his office said yesterday. Typically, prosecutors announce such intentions prior to arraignment.

Lewis, who wore a conservative brown suit, was accompanied by three attorneys and a private investigator.

His legal team waived the reading of the charges and Assistant District Attorney Clinton Rucker then asked Lewis to sign the indictment documents.

The entire proceeding lasted less than two minutes.

But it was painful nonetheless for the relatives of Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, both of Decatur, Ga. The two men were stabbed to death in the street early on the morning of Jan. 31.

"It hurts," said Charita Hale, 24, a cousin of Lollar's who lives in nearby Riverside, Ga., She said she wishes Lewis would tell what he knows about the death of Lollar. "Everyone says he is a peacemaker, that he respects people. He should have respect for everyone. He must be hiding something," Hale said afterward.

She was among seven relatives of the victims who came to the courthouse -- some from as far away as Detroit, and others accompanied by small children -- and filled a bench in the courtroom.

Patrice Brown, a cousin of Baker's, said she is angry that Lewis has been released from jail. He put up a $1 million bond and was freed on Feb. 15.

"They should put Ray Lewis back in jail and try them all together," Brown said.

She also bristled at the effort by attorneys for Lewis' co-defendants to raise Baker's criminal record and claim he was an aggressor in the fight that led to his death.

"They came to Atlanta to seek a better life," Brown said. "He was not on the run from the law."

At the time of his death, Baker was wanted in his hometown of Akron for failing to appear at his arraignment on charges of drug possession, an arrest that violated his probation on a 1997 gun conviction.

Lewis and two of his companions at a post-Super Bowl party on the morning of the murders, Oakley, 31, of Baltimore, and Sweeting, of Miami, have been charged in the case. Unless the judge agrees to try them separately, they will be reunited in the same courtroom on May 15.

Attorneys for Oakley and Sweeting waived their right to appear at the arraignment, submitting their not-guilty pleas in writing.

Lewis' lead attorney, Edward T. M. Garland, however, opted to have his client make his first trip back to Atlanta since his release and face the judge in person.

"I think it is important that everyone knows that his position as stated in the courtroom is not guilty," Garland said after the hearing.

Lewis declined to comment.

Lewis was scheduled to return to Maryland yesterday afternoon. As a condition of his bail, he is forbidden to leave the state except for trips to Georgia related to his case. He also must be at home by 9 p.m. each night.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this article.

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