Ga. victim said to hit 1 of accused with bottle

Claim by witnesses is part of evidence turned over in Lewis case Friday

March 26, 2000|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

Witnesses to the Jan. 31 melee outside an Atlanta nightclub in which two men were fatally stabbed report that one of the victims hit the man now accused of his murder over the head with a champagne bottle as the fight began, according to evidence turned over to defense attorneys on Friday.

According to sources who have seen the evidence, released by prosecutors to lawyers for Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis and co-defendants Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, it paints a murky picture of early-morning hostilities that ended in tragedy.

Although there are contradictions among witnesses to the struggle, sparked after a night of revelry following the Super Bowl, none of them say Lewis stabbed anyone. One of the victims, Jacinth Baker, was seen by some smashing Oakley with a bottle, sources said.

This would appear consistent with suggestions made in court motions by an attorney for Sweeting that the victims had been the aggressors -- a point angrily denied by friends and relatives of Baker, 21, and his companion that night, Richard Lollar, 24.

The two men, who lived in Decatur, Ga., were found by police lying in a street with stab wounds to the heart. Loved ones describe both men as peaceable, and doubt they would have picked a fight with a larger group that included a pro football player.

Lewis, 24, and Sweeting, 34, of Miami, and Oakley, 31, of Baltimore, have all pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and murder. A joint trial is scheduled to begin May 15.

Lewis' attorneys have said the linebacker was merely trying to break up the fight and didn't know anyone had died when he ordered his party back into a 37-foot-long limousine and sped from the scene amid a hail of gunfire.

Attorneys for all three co-defendants and the prosecutors were either unavailable or declined to comment Friday and yesterday, citing a gag order imposed by the judge.

People familiar with the evidence, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, say it contains few surprises.

The most damaging testimony comes, not surprisingly, from companions of Lollar and Baker, sources said. They refute allegations by a member of Lewis' party that the group was targeted for a robbery by Baker and Lollar.

But there is disagreement among them about what role Lewis played. Some say he was uninvolved, but one says he took part in the fight preceding the murders. The limo driver, too, has told police that Lewis, while trying to break up the fight, threw at least one punch.

No witnesses, however, suggest Lewis wielded a knife that morning. There is disagreement among the witnesses about who actually did the cutting.

Under Georgia murder statutes, someone can be found guilty of murder if he participates in an assault during which a companion kills the victim.

Police recovered a knife from the murder scene. The knife was tested for fingerprints, but the report that would reveal whether the fingerprints matched Lewis or his co-defendants had not been completed as of Friday's evidence swap and will be turned over later.

Also not completed: DNA tests of blood found on the weapon that could link it conclusively to the victims.

Still a mystery is who fired shots at Lewis' limo as it pulled away.

According to the evidence turned over by prosecutors, police have not recovered the weapon.

Ravens preseason

Date Opponent Time

8/5 Philadelphia 8 p.m.

8/12 N.Y. Jets 8 p.m.

8/18 at Carolina TBA

8/25 at N.Y. Giants 8 p.m.

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