Limo driver can breathe easier after Lewis' plea

Officials drop subpoena for reluctant witness

June 06, 2000|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN STAFF

Ray Lewis' plea bargain appears to remove from the trial one of its more colorful and tragic figures, the limousine driver who painfully told jurors that Lewis had ordered him to say nothing about the incident that left the two men dead.

Fulton County prosecutors informed the Anne Arundel State's Attorney's Office yesterday that they would not call Duane Fassett of Severn. The Atlanta authorities had earlier sent a subpoena to their Maryland counterparts to compel him to return to the stand.

"They contacted our office to inform us that Mr. Fassett will no longer be necessary in court," said the state attorney's spokeswoman, Kristin Riggin. "Basically, that makes the subpoena null and void."

Fassett, who testified the first week of the trial with bowed head and a barely audible voice, has been hospitalized since last week, his attorney confirmed yesterday.

"He's emotionally and physically wiped out," said the attorney, David B. Irwin of Baltimore. "He's, number one, very relieved that he's not needed in Atlanta and, number two, he's relieved that things seem to be working out for Ray."

Irwin would not say where Fassett is or reveal his client's diagnosis, but added, "we think that the trial's end will certainly reduce the stress he's been feeling."

Attorneys for the remaining two men on trial almost certainly would avoid forcing Fassett to testify again, Irwin said.

"I think they'll have their hands full with Mr. Lewis," he said. "That's where all their energy and concentration will be going."

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard told reporters in Atlanta yesterday that he was giving up efforts to recall Fassett, who drove the rented, 37-foot limousine used by Lewis and his companions.

Fassett told investigators he saw Lewis punching one of the victims, a statement that led authorities to arrest the football player on murder charges hours after the killings on Jan 31. On the stand, Fassett said he saw Lewis raise a fist, but glanced away and didn't see if the punch landed.

Fassett also told police he overheard Lewis' co-defendants acknowledge the crime as the group drove away. But he wasn't asked about the statements he overheard, after prosecutors learned he had poor hearing and feared jurors would discount his remarks.

When Howard later tried to introduce into the trial Fassett's statements to police, the judge said he could not do that without bringing the driver back to explain the disparities and let the defense question him about them.

An ailing Fassett fought the new subpoena.

"The biggest mistake in this case," commented Jerome Froelich, a criminal defense attorney in Atlanta, "was letting the limousine driver get out of here without confronting him. That's rookie stuff."

Sun staff writers Jon Morgan and Marego Athans contributed to this article.

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