Next few days key in Lewis case

Raven, co-defendants in courtroom today to debate motions

May 01, 2000|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- No jurors will be there, and few, if any, witnesses will be heard. But the course and perhaps the outcome of Ray Lewis' May 15 trial on charges of assault and murder may well be decided here over the next few days.

The Ravens linebacker and his two co-defendants, along with their attorneys and the Fulton County prosecutors, are scheduled to gather this morning in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Alice D. Bonner. They will debate a barrage of legal motions, each designed to give one side or the other maximum advantage.

Among the issues to be settled before the trial:

Whether the three men are tried together or separately.

Whether the jury gets to hear about past assault allegations against Lewis and one of his co-defendants. Police and the defense have scrambled to re-examine old accusations against Lewis, filing new evidence and witness statements last week.

Whether Lewis' brief interview with a detective, in which he denied knowing most of the people he was with during an evening of revelry before the killings, can be used as evidence.

Decisions on those matters and others will play a big part in determining how long the trial lasts and who -- if anyone -- will be convicted, said a prominent Atlanta defense attorney and former prosecutor. Jerome Froelich Jr. is not involved in the case, but he has followed it through news reports.

"They will be real important. Clearly, they will dramatically change the trial in a lot of ways," Froelich said.

Lewis, 24, an All-Pro middle linebacker on "excused absence" from Ravens minicamp, faces assault and murder charges stemming from a brawl early Jan. 31 in an Atlanta nightclub district crowded with Super Bowl celebrants. Two Decatur, Ga., men died of stab wounds in the fight -- Jacinth Baker, a 21-year-old art student, and Richard Lollar, 24, a barber.

Charged with Lewis were two men he had been with that morning: Joseph Sweeting, 34, of Miami, and Reginald Oakley, 31, of Baltimore.

Lewis has asked the judge for a "severance" that would give him his own trial. The law calls for a severance when defendants are mounting mutually contradictory defenses, something that doesn't appear likely in this case.

Judges are loath to grant such requests, because of the cost to the public and the inconvenience to witnesses and others forced to prepare for multiple trials. Froelich said it is very unlikely Bonner will grant Lewis a separate trial.

If he could get it, however, it would boost Lewis' chances of acquittal. Oakley's attorney also asked for severance several months ago, but he hasn't indicated publicly since if he will pursue the matter.

"It would probably be more important for Lewis to get severance," said Dan Summer, a lawyer with Summer & Summer in Gainesville, Ga.

"If I didn't have anything to do with the crime, I would rather not be there with the guys who did, because of the spillover effect," Summer said. "He doesn't want to be associated with these guys."

Also important to Lewis will be keeping jurors from hearing allegations of past misdeeds. He has never been convicted of a crime, but he has been subject to accusations going back to his days at the University of Miami. In each case, a victim declined to press charges or prosecutors dropped the matter.

In one incident, Lewis' current fiance and the mother of two of his children, Tatyana McCall, told police she went to his dormitory room in 1994 to retrieve some items after they had broken up. In the course of an argument, Lewis pushed her, struck her in the face and grabbed her by the throat, she told police at the time.

Lewis denied that account, saying he pushed her only to avoid being hit by her. He was never charged. In February, McCall testified in behalf of Lewis' request for bail and changed her account, saying he restrained her only "to keep me from attacking him."

But a woman who worked as a resident assistant in the dorm recalled the incident last month for Atlanta investigators, saying she saw Lewis holding McCall against the wall, about six inches off the floor, by her neck. The witness, Susan Finken, said she was told by McCall that she was pregnant with Lewis' baby and had caught him cheating on her, according to a copy of her statement that was entered into the Atlanta case file.

Finken said she reported a number of incidents related to loud celebrations coming from Lewis' room. After one encounter, she called campus security. The next morning, she was reprimanded by a university official, who said Lewis had "made a big stink" to the athletic department and she was to stay away from the player.

In 1995, Lewis was charged in an incident involving Kimberlie Arnold Ford, a pregnant woman who was dating him. She told The Sun earlier this year that he merely grabbed her during an argument and that he was basically a gentle man. She has filed an affidavit for Lewis' defense team, saying she now thinks another person put a hand on her shoulder and that she mistook it for Lewis'.

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