There's nary a stand-up guy to be found in Lewis case

This Just In...

June 01, 2000|By Dan Rodricks

FROM THE Cobalt Lounge to the place where Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar were stabbed to death, it's all downhill. The sidewalk where the fight erupted on the morning after the Super Bowl has a distinct grade to it.

Something else: East Paces Ferry Road is much narrower than press photographs or television video would lead you to believe. The now infamous street in the hip-and-happenin' Buckhead section of north Atlanta is well-lighted and busy. A lot of people must have seen what happened there.

Certainly more than have testified in the murder trial of Ray Lewis and his two buddies.

And among those who were there between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. on Jan. 31 -- and who have been compelled to testify for the prosecution -- there's not a hero among them. That is, unless you stretch to consider Marlin Burros, who got a handgun and fired it seven times at Lewis' fleeing limousine, a stand-up guy.

But Burros, of course, didn't stay around to render aid to the victims or help police find their killers.

It's hard to find anyone who did.

Not even friends of the victims did.

The killings were gruesome, and what happened in their immediate aftermath wasn't all that pretty, either.

Jeff Gwen, the rapper from Ohio known as Chino Nino, saw the fight on East Paces Ferry. He found his friends' bloodied bodies in the road. He leaned down and touched Lollar on the cheek. He saw Lollar's eyes roll. But Gwen didn't stick around. He's on probation from a marijuana possession case in Ohio and wasn't even supposed to be in Atlanta. He beat it out of Buckhead fast.

The handgun Marlin Burros used to try to stop the limousine had been illegally purchased. He wasn't about to stick around, drop the weapon, put up his hands and try to justify the shooting.

Lemetrice Twitty, another Akron guy who had been partying with friends at the Cobalt, was greatly disturbed by the attack on Baker and Lollar, but not enough to keep him from finishing his big night with a visit to a woman's house. As police and paramedics arrived on East Paces Ferry, Twitty retired to the comfort of a woman named Mimi.

Chris Shinholster, another friend of the victims and a witness to the fighting, scooted, too. Shinholster said he was scared, even though the fight was over and the men he'd identified as combatants had fled in the limousine.

Of course, Shinholster might have chosen to run for a simple reason: He's scared or mistrustful of police. If so, he's among many young African-American men who feel that way. That dynamic, more than anything, might explain why information leading to suspects in the Buckhead murder was so hard to come by and why the case against Lewis and pals is turning out to be so hard for the Fulton County district attorney to prove.

Though many more people must have been on East Paces Ferry as the clubs closed on one of the biggest nights in Atlanta's year, it's possible that the only man who was with Baker and Lollar as police arrived was Patrick Ozonu, a cabdriver.

Ozonu was appalled by the beating he'd witnessed and concerned about the condition of the young men in the street. He actually contacted a cop and positioned his taxi to block a car from leaving the scene of the stabbings. Ozonu, who's from Nigeria, provides the only sign of humanity in this story.

You won't find it among those from the Lewis limousine who testified in this case. None of them called the police or 911. None have been overly helpful with the investigation, either. One woman, Rehana Grant, got immunity from prosecution before she said anything, even though she'd done nothing wrong.

Grant's demand for immunity could simply be further testament to the extent of mistrust of the police and the judicial system, in Atlanta and everywhere.

Ray Lewis' defense lawyers assert that he was trying to stop the fight that led to the murders. Other attorneys suggest that Baker and Lollar might have been out to rob the flashy, mink-wrapped football player and his friends. The suggestion: The fighting on East Paces Ferry was in self-defense.

But what did Lewis do in the immediate aftermath of this mess?

According to testimony, he went back to his hotel and changed his clothes and sat in a chair and said, "I'm not going to end my career like this." He said that more than once, and several people heard it. Lewis also told his loyal limousine driver and his entourage "not to say anything" about what had happened. He called his driver a few times by cell phone to ask him if the police had come around.

In the immediate aftermath of the mess in Buckhead, his instinct was cover-up, not stand-up.

It's hard to find a stand-up guy in this case.

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