Credibility and confusion are witnesses to Lewis case

Football

May 24, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

The opening statements are complete. The outlines of the cases for and against Ray Lewis are public record. And the same basic question remains:

How will the state of Georgia prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the Ravens' middle linebacker is guilty of double murder?

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard failed to establish yesterday that any of the three co-defendants was holding a knife. And the events surrounding the fight that led to the stabbing deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar remain as confusing as ever.

FOR THE RECORD - In yesterday's Sports section, a column about the trial of Ray Lewis and his co-defendants incorrectly identified one of the two attorneys representing Joseph Sweeting. The attorney who was quoted was John Bergendahl.
The Sun regrets the error.

Based on the opening statements and the first day of testimony, a logical, linear explanation for what went down outside the Cobalt Lounge the morning after the Super Bowl simply is not going to emerge at the trial of Lewis, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting.

Which is exactly what the defense intends.

In fact, Lewis' defense team suggested yesterday that one of the attacks witnessed by a woman from her apartment window was not the beating of Baker by occupants of Lewis' limousine, but the beating of Sweeting by acquaintances of the victims from Akron, Ohio.

It would be easy to confuse the two - Baker was 5 feet 3, 146 pounds; Sweeting is 5-6, 155.

Especially easy on a night marked by "chaos" and "confusion," the words invoked by Lewis' lead attorney, Ed Garland.

Garland said members of the Akron group fled east. One, Marlin Burros, fired a handgun at Lewis' limousine as the vehicle sped away. Both pertinent details, but details that fail to address the central question:

Who murdered Baker and Lollar?

That's the prosecution's problem, but the defense doesn't seem above floating its own theories.

Garland said witness Kevin Brown saw Baker being beaten by a man in a mink coat. He later referred to a man named "Carlos," limo occupant Carlos Stafford."Carlos was wearing a black mink coat," Garland said, speaking slowly for emphasis.

"Carlos in the black mink coat had blood down his legs."

Stafford has invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to testify in the case. The defense is trying to obtain immunity from prosecution for Stafford and another limo occupant, Kwame King.

Meanwhile, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution.

And what exactly does the prosecution have?

Howard, citing a "blood trail," said Baker's blood was found on Lewis' seat in the back of the limo - the captain's seat. Baker's, Oakley's and Lewis' blood also was found in Lewis' hotel room at the Georgian Terrace.

Yet, that might mean nothing more than Lewis was trying to break up the fight, as his lawyers contend.

Melissa Keeler, a prosecution witness yesterday, gave a chilling account of the beatings, but could not identify the perpetrators, other than to say they were, "tall, broad, muscular, above-average."

That would seem to rule out Sweeting and perhaps even Oakley, who is 5-9, 165 pounds, according to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. It wouldn't rule out Lewis, who is 6-1, 240. But it also wouldn't rule out some of the larger members of the Akron crowd.

Another prosecution witness, taxi driver Patrick Ozuno, is expected to testify that an athletic-looking man stood over Lollar, pointing his finger as if taunting. Garland said the man was not Lewis, but Chris Shinholster of the Akron group, who was screaming, "I told you so! I told you so!" after apparently warning his friend to steer clear of trouble.

Howard, the D.A. running for re-election, said another prosecution witness, Chester Anderson, would testify along with two others in his party that Lewis was kicking one of the bodies lying on the ground.

Alas, Howard was forced to reveal that Anderson has a slight credibility problem:

He's currently jailed out of state on a warrant charging him with identity fraud."Mr. Anderson is a professional impostor whose habit and pattern in life is to assume the identity of someone else to commit crime and fraud," Garland told the jurors. "You'll find out he goes by different names. It will be interesting to see what name Mr. Anderson uses when he comes here."

And another thing:"What you're going to find out about Mr. Anderson is that Mr. Anderson's idea that Ray Lewis was kicking was after all the newspaper publicity and all the information about what people had said had been published in the paper," Garland said. "And he gets the idea that maybe he can get a lawsuit up by the family of the deceased against Ray Lewis and if he comes forward, maybe he can get a percentage of the lawsuit. That's what is working in the impostor's mind."

And another:"I predict you'll find he was drunk as a coot," Garland said.

Lewis, of course, has his own credibility problem - Garland was forced to admit his 25-year-old client was "not fully truthful" in his initial statement to police.

Likewise, Howard was forced to come clean about Lt. Mike Smith, a white policeman who made a racially offensive remark to an an African-American witness.

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