Judge rejects unusual request

Defendant in Lewis case wanted witness immunity

May 04, 2000|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

The judge overseeing the upcoming murder trial of Ray Lewis has rejected an unusual request by one of his co-defendants to extend immunity to two witnesses who were unable to get that protection from the prosecutors.

Bruce Harvey, the Atlanta attorney of Reginald Oakley, had asked Fulton County Superior Court Judge Alice D. Bonner to extend immunity from prosecution to two men who were on the scene in Atlanta at 4 a.m. on Jan. 31 when two men were killed.

Gaining immunity would mean the men would be free to testify without fear of revealing anything that could form the basis of charges against them.

Oakley, 31, of Baltimore, Joseph Sweeting, 34, of Miami, and Lewis, 24, an All-Pro Ravens linebacker, are all charged with assault and murder in connection with the killings. Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, of Decatur, Ga., were stabbed to death.

Prosecutors have sought to question all 11 passengers of the limousine in which Lewis and his co-defendants were riding that morning. Other than the co-defendants, all of the passengers have sought immunity before talking with police, to protect themselves against being charged. Prosecutors have so far granted immunity only to the limo driver and a female passenger.

But Harvey argued that two men who were in the limo, Kwami King, a friend of Lewis' and a student at Florida A&M, and Carlos Stafford, a Texas law student, could offer testimony that would clear his client.

In a hearing Monday, Harvey did not say why these two men -- whom he termed "witnessesparticipants" to the Jan. 31 incident -- could offer exculpatory testimony, but offered to make the explanation to the judge in secret. Harvey said the secrecy was necessary to preserve the confidentiality of his defense strategy.

Bonner agreed, and yesterday issued a written order denying the request for now but offering to reconsider the issue when the trial is under way. The trial is scheduled to begin May 15.

Bonner wrote that Harvey had indicated that the testimony he seeks would help clear his client, but she did not establish that either of the proposed witnesses would put themselves in jeopardy of being charged if they appeared at the trial. She suggested the men should be subpoenaed.

"If the witnesses invoke their fifth amendment right when they are questioned at trial, the Court will decide whether Defendant's right to present the testimony outweighs the State's interest in denial of immunity to them," Bonner wrote.

Also this week, Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Barbara Kerr Howe signed an order finding that Garfield Yullie, of the 7400 block of Hindon Circle, is a "material and necessary witness" in the Ray Lewis case.

Court records show the order was requested by Shiela Ross Finley, an assistant district attorney in Atlanta, so that Yullie could be required to testify when Lewis is tried.

Yullie, a former roommate of Oakley's, is not believed to have been in Atlanta at the time of the killings. Yet his testimony could be key for prosecutors attempting to prove a relationship between Lewis and Oakley.

Defense attorneys have described Sweeting and Oakley as "hangers-on" who were not close to Lewis. However, prosecutors have suggested the men had long-standing friendships with the football player and that Oakley frequently stayed at Lewis' home and attended Ravens games.

Sun staff writer Dennis O'Brien contributed to this article.

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