Limo driver says Lewis not drunk, threw punch

Prosecution witness denies Raven had knife

May 03, 2000|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

A key prosecution witness in the assault and murder case against Ray Lewis told investigators that the player was a friend who, contrary to the testimony of another witness, was not drunk at the time two men were slain in Atlanta.

Duane Fassett, the man who drove the rented, Glen Burnie-based stretch limousine in which Lewis and his party fled the scene of the Jan. 31 street brawl, also said he is sure Lewis did not have a knife when he allegedly punched one of the victims.

Excerpts of handwritten notes, taken by Fulton County Assistant District Attorney Sheila Ross Finley during an interview with Fassett last month in Baltimore, were submitted yesterday in the court docket in Atlanta.

The notes consist of unfinished sentences and shorthand notations, but provide new details about what Fassett saw and what he thought of the popular Ravens linebacker.

Lewis and two limo passengers that morning -- Reginald Oakley, 31, of Baltimore, and Joseph Sweeting, 34, of Miami -- are scheduled to be tried May 15 on charges of assault and murder. They are accused of killing two Decatur, Ga., men -- Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24 -- both of whom suffered stab wounds to the heart and chest.

Statements by Fassett, along with those of a friend of the victims, formed the basis of the arrest warrant and eventual indictment of Lewis. Because he knew the suspects previously and could identify them, Fassett's testimony will be crucial at the trial. Prosecutors have given him immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony.

During the early-morning melee in Atlanta, Fassett was scared. He had driven Lewis and his friends to a nightclub to celebrate the Super Bowl, which had been played in Atlanta the night before. Shortly after Lewis and his friends returned to the limo, about 4 a.m., Fassett heard "tons of yelling," according to the notes.

Kevin Brown, a man who happened upon the fight in progress but was not with either Lewis' or the victims' groups, has told police that the player appeared drunk and required the assistance of two women to walk. Fassett, however, said he has never known Lewis to be "wasted" and he didn't appear drunk that morning and was not slurring his speach.

Fassett said he heard Lewis yelling for his friends to get into the limo early in the dispute, and heard Oakley exchange words with men walking by. Moments later, Fassett heard the pop of a bottle -- presumably the champagne bottle that other witnesses say Baker smashed over Oakley's head.

Then, according to the notes, "Holy hell broke loose."

Fassett said he saw Lewis throw a punch at one of the victims -- something Lewis denies. This point will be important in the case. In order to win a conviction, prosecutors must convince the jury Lewis was a willing participant in a fight that led up to the deaths and was not simply defending himself or his friends. Lewis says he was merely acting as a "peacemaker."

As the group climbed back into the limo after the fight, Fassett said he heard Lewis express concern about his playing career being affected by the incident.

Later, Lewis told Fassett to " `keep ... [his] ... mouth shut. You don't know anything. ... Don't say who was in the limo,' " the driver said. But once the police showed up at the hotel where he had stopped to change a flat tire, Fassett said he became worried he would be charged with a crime if he didn't tell what he knew.

Fassett said he never saw anyone with a knife, although as he was pulling away from the scene, he overheard someone in the limo say, "I stabbed mine."

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