Lewis jury field at 55

Raven's statement at issue in hearing

May 20, 2000|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - The field of potential jurors who will decide the fate of Ravens star Ray Lewis and his co-defendants was narrowed to 55 yesterday after the judge sided with the defense on how to pick alternate jurors on Monday.

Also on Monday, a hearing will be held to decide if jurors will be permitted to see a statement Lewis gave to police before he was arrested. In it, he said he didn't know the names of most of the people he was with early on the morning of Jan. 31, when two men were stabbed to death in a street fight.

Lewis, 25, is being tried on charges of assault and murder with co-defendants Reginald Oakley, 31, of Baltimore, and Joseph Sweeting, 34, of Miami. The prosecution says the three killed Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, of Decatur, Ga.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Alice D. Bonner sided with defense attorneys yesterday on an administrative point regarding the number of prospective alternate jurors each side can eliminate from the pool.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys had sought tactical advantage on the issue. The defense succeeded in limiting the number of prospects the prosecution can strike to five, which is also the number of alternates Bonner has ordered to hear the case. Alternates join deliberations only if a regular juror is excused for an emergency or other reason.

On Monday, each side will exercise its strikes, leaving 12 jurors and five alternates from the pool of 55. Those jurors will then be seated and hear opening statements, probably on Tuesday.

One more important pre-trial matter remains to be settled: whether the jurors will see a transcript of the statement that Lewis gave to police on the evening of Jan.31. In it, Lewis, at the home of a relative of his fiancM-ie, spoke briefly with a detective who transcribed the conversation on a computer in the house as they spoke.

Prosecutors hope to use the transcript to show Lewis was not cooperative with police, and might have been trying to protect his co-defendants.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, when asked how important the statement is to his case against Lewis, said, "It's hard to pick out one piece of evidence as more important."

He said the statement was taken fairly and should be permitted in the trial.

"Based upon the way and manner the statement was given, I don't think it can be excused," Howard said.

Don Samuel, one of Lewis' attorneys, said the detective who took the statement threatened to go to the NFL and the Ravens if Lewis didn't cooperate. Under Georgia law, statements given under certain kinds of threats are not allowed in a trial.

"He was under fear of an economic loss," related to his job and income, Samuel said.

Monday's hearing will bring to the stand Lt. Mike Smith, the officer who took the statement. Smith, commander of the Atlanta police homicide unit, has been accused of making racially insensitive comments to a witness in this case.

During an interview, he asked a black man what his nickname was. When the man said he did not have one, Smith allegedly replied, "Come on, you know all you African-Americans have nicknames for each other."

The police department said in early March that it was investigating the incident. Yesterday, police spokesman John Quigley said the investigation was continuing.

Howard said yesterday that he was confident the incident would not hurt his case the way allegations of past racism against Los Angeles Police detective Mark Fuhrman damaged the case against O.J. Simpson in 1995.

"I really think people are smart enough to ask themselves, `What does this have to do with anything?' " Howard said.

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