ATLANTA - Bruce Harvey, the pony-tailed and tattooed showboat who serves as defense attorney for one of Ray Lewis's co-defendants, was about to wrap up his cross-examination of Evelyn Sparks, the young and smartly dressed Chicago woman who was in Lewis's rented limousine the morning of the Buckhead murders. In fact, Harvey, who resembles the actor Stanley Tucci, had just one more question for Sparks:
"My wife wants to know what kind of shoes you're wearing."
Immediately four things happened - some spectators in the courtroom laughed, a couple of jurors smiled, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard stood to object to the flippant question, and four women seated just behind him grimaced and gasped with disgust. Those women were relatives of the victims of this double killing; you can understand why they found Harvey's question insulting.
They reacted with the same gasps when another defense attorney, Steve Sadow, stood by his trial table during a recess Wednesday afternoon and made a wisecrack about a female prosecutor. A young woman who serves as the district attorney's liaison to victims' families made a beeline for the courtroom door when she heard Sadow's attempt at humor.
The relatives of the victims stayed behind in their seats, shaking their heads.
Some of the defense lawyers in this case - there are seven, and, to be fair, most refrain from wisecracks - might be feeling pretty cocky as the Lewis trial reaches the end of its second week. Important elements of the prosecution's attack fizzled, and some of the defense's best work took place during direct examination of the state's witnesses.
Howard has been criticized in the media for his handling of the case, and he's been scolded several times by the judge over important procedural points. His courtroom manners seem rusty, and he doesn't win many arguments. But he and his team remain somber and focused, according the Buckhead victims and their families - and, to be downright grandiose about this, the cause of justice - the appropriate level of respect.
"I don't like all the laughing," says Faye Lollar, aunt of the late Richard Lollar. She came in from Greenville, Tenn., to observe the trial. She's been joined in the gallery this week by Penny Lollar, her aunt, and Petrel Lollar, a 25-year-old cousin of Richard Lollar from Colombus, Ohio. Relatives of the other Buckhead victim, Jacinth "Shorty" Baker, have also attended the trial.
"They're trying to make things funny, but there's nothing funny about this," Petrel Lollar says.
Especially when the prosecution displays color crime-scene photographs on a large screen near the jury box.
Richard Lollar's body is the one in the photographs. The 24-year-old hairstylist died of multiple stab wounds on East Paces Ferry Road, down the street from the Cobalt Lounge in the Buckhead section of north Atlanta. (Plastic flowers mark the spot where he was stabbed.) Baker, his friend and fellow Akron, Ohio, native, died in a hospital.
Some of the Lollar women, including the victim's grandmother, Joyce Lollar, left Courtroom 1B when the slides were shown.
"Richard was a beautiful person and an artist," says Petrel Lollar, who grew up with him in Ohio. "Whenever I stopped by his barbershop [in Akron], no matter how many customers he had waiting in line, he would drop his clipping and say, `Hey, everybody, here's my cousin!' And just that little two-second hug would make me feel so good, so special."
She remembers when he left Akron for Hotlanta. "I understood. Akron's a small town," she says. "A lot of people never get out."
But Richard Lollar got out, then died in the city he saw as a land of opportunity.
"I wanted to be [at the Lewis trial] to give Richard, his family, a face," Petrel says. "I wanted him to be a person instead of just a name, and I wanted people to know that his family really loved him. This isn't just the Ray Lewis trial."
But it is a celebrity trial. It does involve a National Football League star. If not for Ray Lewis's involvement, most of us never would have heard of the deaths of two more young men on a street in Atlanta. We have plenty of homicides back in Baltimore.
In the sun outside the courthouse yesterday, I told Faye Lollar that without Lewis' involvement, it's possible these homicides, stemming from a street brawl and involving murky facts and reluctant witnesses, would not have received as much attention from the police or district attorney. It certainly would not have received national press coverage. The pressure to solve the crime and bring the killers to justice would not have been as great. That's a sad fact of life in this violent country.
Faye Lollar got my point and quickly moved to the subject of another violent death in her family.