Courtroom drama: Curtain going up on Ray Lewis trial

Big cast of characters assembles in Atlanta for murder case

May 14, 2000|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

Tomorrow, on Ray Lewis' 25th birthday, characters will converge in an unfolding drama that mixes pro football, celebrity, money, politics, rap music, wild parties, street brawling and homicide.

Performing in an Atlanta courtroom will be some of the city's sharpest legal minds, including a smooth lawyer born to Southern gentry and a pony-tailed, tattooed maverick.

Jurors and TV viewers will peer into a world of rap artists, hairstylists and small-time criminals, where a famous limousine, a mink coat and a champagne bottle figure in the fatal stabbings of two young men."You couldn't write a book like this. No one would believe it," said Jerry Froelich, a prominent criminal defense attorney in Atlanta and former prosecutor who is not involved in the case.

On trial will be the Ravens star linebacker and two co-defendants, all charged with assault and murder. The selection of a jury is to begin tomorrow.

From the start, the Ray Lewis case has drawn an unusual amount of attention, with continuing media coverage of routine legal developments, Internet chatter and a Web site that sells bumper stickers reading "Let Ray Play."

Court TV will air the proceedings live. Baltimore radio host Larry Young, a former state senator who organized a prayer vigil for Lewis this year, plans to broadcast his morning show from the trial.

Added to the mix will be the victims' and defendants' relatives and spectators who might include Ravens players, coaches and owner Art Modell.

"The spectacle," said Baltimore attorney Andrew Radding, "is transcending the legal issue and the somber nature of the proceedings."

It won't be another O.J. Simpson case. Lewis is famous, but not as big as Simpson, and this case is less a whodunit than a post-Super Bowl street melee turned deadly.

Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, of Decatur, Ga., were fatally stabbed Jan. 31. Lewis; Reginald Oakley, 31, of Baltimore; and Joseph Sweeting, 34, of Miami have been charged and have pleaded not guilty.

But the players who have emerged since then - from Lewis' team of lawyers and their investigators to the police officer under scrutiny for an alleged racially insensitive remark - make comparisons to Simpson inevitable.

The trial of the football star-turned-broadcaster, in which Simpson was acquitted in 1995 of the killing of his former wife and her friend, captivated millions with its quirky witnesses, fumbling police and grandstanding lawyers.

Lewis' dream team

Leading Lewis' defense team is a charismatic Southerner known in Atlanta for his high-profile clients and flamboyant courtroom manner. Edward T.M. Garland, 58, is said to woo juries with his gentility and resounding voice and nail witnesses under cross-examination.

He lives in a mansion used in the movie "Driving Miss Daisy" and during the Simpson trial he showed up frequently as a commentator on CNN television.

Garland's partner in the firm Garland, Samuel and Loeb is Donald F. Samuel, 46.

No stranger to celebrity, he helped win an acquittal for Jim Williams, a Savannah millionaire who was charged with murder in the case depicted in the book and movie "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."

In contrast to Garland's flamboyance, the bearded, buttoned-down Samuel is described as brilliant, bookish and professorial, "a walking encyclopedia of law," Froelich said.

He has written two books that defense lawyers throughout Georgia use for reference, said Walt Britt, a criminal defense lawyer from nearby Buford, Ga., who is a friend of several of the lawyers in the case.

Ponytail and tattoos

Perhaps outnumbered, but not to be ignored, is the attorney for co-defendant Reginald Oakley.

Bruce Harvey, 49, another one of Atlanta's legal stars, is flashy, confrontational and menacing in cross-examination. Tall and lean, he has a long ponytail and seven tattoos, including a dragon on each shoulder, a cobra on one wrist and a star on one finger, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

His Jaguar's license plate reads "ACQUIT.""Harvey is always dressed to the nines," Britt said. "Women love him."

Harvey has a history of taking on high-profile cases, among them a federal lawsuit that forced Cobb County to remove the Ten Commandments from its courthouse wall, in which he was the lead plaintiff.

Recently he became one of the lawyers representing Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, the Muslim cleric formerly known as H. Rap Brown - who incited race riots in Cambridge in the 1960s - and was recently indicted in the fatal shooting of one Fulton County deputy and the wounding of another.

"He's very, very effective in front of a jury," Froelich said. "People underrate him. They think he's a wild man, but he promotes that idea."

Steve Sadow, 46, who is defending Sweeting, appears more conservative than Harvey, "but he has an iron mind as far as facts, and probably out of all of them he's the most intense," Britt said. And he shares Harvey's bulldog cross-examination style.

"We laugh about it all the time, who's the nastiest," Britt said.

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