Deal near in Lewis murder case

Plea agreement would net probation, according to sources

Guilty to obstruction

Ravens linebacker would serve no time, be able to play

June 05, 2000|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - Murder charges will be dropped against Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis in exchange for him pleading guilty to obstruction of justice under a tentative agreement worked out yesterday with prosecutors, sources familiar with the case said.

The agreement, which brings to an abrupt end a two-week trial that had gone very badly for prosecutors, recommends that Lewis get 12 months' probation on the misdemeanor obstruction of justice charge, according to sources familiar with the case who spoke on condition of anonymity.

This would preserve his ability to play for the Ravens in the fall. Lewis was the third active player in NFL history to be charged with murder.

Reached at home, Lewis' chief attorney, Edward T. M. Garland, declined yesterday to confirm or deny the agreement. But he said, "We think Monday will be a good day for Ray Lewis."

Ravens owner Art Modell said last night that he was "aware of it," referring to a possible Lewis plea bargain, but said he would not comment "until it comes to fruition today."

Coach Brian Billick said, "I can't [comment]. It wouldn't be prudent."

Both sides will appear this morning in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Alice D. Bonner.

If Bonner, who has presided over the trial, rejects the probation terms, prosecutors will drop the charges, and Lewis will have no sanction, under the terms of the deal, the sources said.

Lewis is expected to testify against his two co-defendants, Reginald Oakley, 31, of Baltimore and Joseph Sweeting, 34, of Miami. Both could be damaged by his testimony, according to one source. All three pleaded not guilty.

Steve Sadow of Atlanta, an attorney for Sweeting, said last night that he didn't know anything of a deal.

"That will be very interesting," he said. It remains unclear whether pleading guilty to a misdemeanor will expose Lewis to disciplinary action by the National Football League, although Commissioner Paul Tagliabue indicated last month that he would take no action against Lewis if he were to be acquitted of the murder charges.

Tagliabue, who suspended three NFL players for two games earlier this year for off-the-field conduct, also indicated that suspensions would continue for players who are convicted of crimes.

Two players - MattO'Dwyer and Jumbo Elliott - were suspended for two games, and a third, Jason Fabini, was fined $14,000, for their involvement in a bar fight last season. In addition, Denard Walker, a starting cornerback for the AFC champion Tennessee Titans, was suspended for two games after pleading guilty to assault on the mother of his son.

The NFL had instituted a violent-crime policy, and its name was changed to "personal conduct policy" last month. It requires mandatory psychological evaluation for any player accused of violent crime and a fine or suspension for those convicted of or admitting a violent crime.

Several players have undergone counseling under the policy, several have been fined, but none have been suspended.

The three defendants in Atlanta are being tried together on charges of aggravated assault and murder in the stabbing deaths of two men in Atlanta's fashionable nightclub district the morning after the Super Bowl was played here.

Prosecutors alleged that the three, after an exchange of vulgar language possibly initiated by the victims, attacked Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, stabbing them fatally.

The victims were both from Akron, Ohio, but had moved to Atlanta.

At the beginning of the trial, Fulton County prosecutor Paul Howard promised jurors that he would bring several witnesses to the stand who would describe what happened. But as he moved through his case, witness after witness hedged, testifying to less than they had told investigators.

On the day of the killings, police first contacted Lewis after they found his disabled limousine in a hotel parking lot and the driver revealed the player's cell phone number. Lewis told police he would be willing to come to their headquarters but wasn't sure how to get there, Detective James E. Edmonds testified.

Edmonds and Lt. Michael C. Smith, head of the department's homicide /assault unit, went to pick Lewis up at the suburban Norcross, Ga., home where his fiancM-ie was staying with relatives.

They arrived a half-hour later and Lewis said he had spoken with a lawyer and been advised not to go to the station, Smith said. He said he was in a hurry to catch a flight to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.

Lewis did agree to answer questions, which Smith transcribed on a computer that was in the home. The result represents Lewis' only official statement to police about the morning on which Baker and Lollar were killed.

Prosecutor Howard alleged that Lewis and his two codefendants beat and stabbed the victims in a street fight.

Lewis says he was trying to break up the fight.

In his two-hour session with police Jan. 31, Lewis first said he didn't know any of the 10 other passengers who rode with him in the 37-foot limousine.

Later he said one was "A. J. Johnson," an alias used by Oakley.

At one point, Lewis followed Smith outside and explained that he didn't want to say too much around his fiancM-ie. Lewis said he had been with a girlfriend at the time of the incident, Smith said.

Sun staff writer Ken Murray contributed to this article.

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