Witnesses: Both sides willing in Atlanta fight

Friend of victims says Lewis escalated incident

March 29, 2000|By COX NEWS SERVICE

ATLANTA -- What sparked the street fight remains unclear, but it appears that both sides -- the occupants of Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis' limousine and the two men stabbed to death -- were active and willing participants in a fracas that escalated into death, according to statements witnesses gave authorities.

The 250-pound Lewis helped escalate the fight by taking his gold chain from his neck, an unmistakable action that said he was ready to fight, according to a statement from Jeff Gwen, an Akron, Ohio, resident and friend of the two men stabbed to death in the fight.

Prosecutors are expected to use that statement to challenge defense contentions that Lewis, the All-Pro linebacker charged with murder, tried to be a peacemaker. Gwen told police he then saw Lewis fighting with one of the victims shortly before the victim was stabbed to death.

Gwen's statements -- and those of Lewis' limousine driver -- were used by prosecutors to obtain the Feb. 11 murder indictment against Lewis and co-defendants Reginald Oakley, 31, of Baltimore and Joseph Sweeting, 34, of Miami. The statements are a key element behind the prosecution's contention that Lewis is guilty of murder because he participated in a crime -- aggravated assault -- that led to the death of the victims. Gwen did not see Lewis holding a knife.

Richard Lollar, 24, and Jacinth Baker, 21, Akron natives who lived in Decatur, both were fatally stabbed three times in the heart and the chest.

Gwen's testimony is certain to be attacked by Lewis' defense team. Lewis, 24, and his co-defendants have pleaded not guilty. According to statements given by witnesses who were members of Lewis' party, Lollar, Baker and their friends were the instigators of the fight. Gwen told police that Lollar yelled a vulgarity and racial slur before jumping into the fray.

Jessica Robertson, who was with Lewis that night, has told prosecutors that members of her group believed they were fending off a robbery.

According to Robertson's statement, she heard one of the limousine occupants say, "He has a gun."

Robertson, who turned over to investigators nine garment bags of Lewis's clothing and has been given immunity from prosecutors, said a passenger in the limousine warned the other occupants to "get down" because someone on the street had a gun. Someone at the scene fired at the fleeing Lincoln Navigator limo, striking it five times and flattening a tire.

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