Lewis evidence turned over

Sweeting lawyers move to keep contents secret

March 25, 2000|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Atlanta prosecutors yesterday turned over to lawyers for Ray Lewis and his co-defendants boxes of evidence they have compiled against the men, but an attorney immediately moved to keep the contents secret.

The prosecutors wanted to file the material with the court, which would likely make it public. Attorneys representing Joseph Sweeting of Miami, a co-defendant, asked that it be kept secret.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Alice Bonner was on vacation this week and is expected to decide the matter on Monday. Last month she issued a broad gag order preventing all parties from disclosing evidence or otherwise discussing the case publicly.

"It was our intention as is the normal procedure to file it with the court clerk," said Erik Friedly, a spokesman for the Fulton County District Attorney's office.

It would have been the public's first glimpse of what prosecutors have said will be evidence showing Lewis was "actively involved" in the beating and stabbing of Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, of Decatur, Ga. The men were found on an Atlanta street early on the morning of Jan. 31, each with fatal stab wounds to the heart.

John Bergendahl, a Miami-based lawyer for Sweeting, said, "The gist of the motion is asking for reassurances that the state would not do indirectly what they can't do directly."

By filing the material in court, prosecutors could publicize it without technically violating the gag order.

The evidence handoff was delayed several times and finally occurred about 6: 05 p.m., when representatives of the three defendants each picked up a box from the office of the state's attorney.

The boxes contained four three-inch thick notebooks and a packet of photos, Friedly said.

Defense attorneys have 10 days from receipt of yesterday's material to turn over their evidence to the prosecution. Such an exchange allows both sides to gather material necessary to refute the other's arguments and prepare for trial.

Any new evidence -- whether witness statements, forensic tests or other material -- discovered by either side between now and the scheduled May 15 start of the trial will have to be shared with the other parties within five days of obtaining it, under an order from Judge Bonner.

Lewis, an All-Pro linebacker for the Ravens, Sweeting, 34, and Reginald Oakley, 31, of Baltimore, each face two charges of murder and assault in the case. The three celebrated together after the Super Bowl at an Atlanta nightclub and allegedly engaged in a brawl with the victims after they left the club.

Lewis' attorneys say he was a "horrified bystander" who tried to break up the fight. All three defendants have pleaded not guilty.

An investigator for the Atlanta Police Department was expected to be in Baltimore in coming days to, among other things, interview several women who have accused Ray Lewis of hitting them in a Baltimore County bar. Criminal charges in that case were dropped by the prosecutor last week, but Atlanta authorities may still try to use the incident to refute Lewis' character witnesses.

Investigators also are searching for information about a number of suits that Lewis took with him to Atlanta and left with a woman who was with his party the evening of the murders, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

She gave the suits, along with other clothing, to police several weeks ago after winning immunity from prosecution in the case. Police were expected to conduct tests on the clothes, to see if they are stained by blood from either of the victims. The results of the tests have not been publicly disclosed and may be in the material handed over yesterday.

Haas Tailoring, a Baltimore-based custom suit maker, had a marketing arrangement with the Ravens several years ago that included access to players to offer garments.

Michael McLean, chief operating officer for Haas, declined yesterday to say if his firm made suits for Lewis or had been contacted by Atlanta police.

"I'm not going to comment on that," he said.

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