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Cognac, knives and fists

Lewis testifies for the prosecution, and against friends

`There was a big brawl'

Linebacker tells of events before fatal street fight

June 07, 2000|By Jon Morgan and Marego Athans | Jon Morgan and Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

Lewis said the others soon joined him. As the vehicle left the curb, it was struck by several bullets. A member of the Akron group has admitted to shooting at the limousine, in an effort to get it to stop. The occupants hit the floor and stayed there until they pulled into a hotel a mile away to fix a tire flattened by the gunfire.

While in that hotel's lobby, waiting for cabs, Lewis said he walked up to Sweeting and asked what happened. He said his friend, whom he has known since he attended the University of Miami, showed him how he held a knife between his fingers in a fist. Lewis demonstrated the back and forth motion for the jurors, using a pen for the knife.

"He said, `Every time they hit me I hit them.' I said, `You all tripping'" Lewis testified.

Later, in his hotel room, Lewis asked Oakley what had happened. Oakley said he "was just beating him," Lewis testified. "I said this is all on me. My career is over because you guys tripping."

Lewis admitted lying to police when they came to interview him later that day. He said he doesn't know what became of the cream-colored suit he had on that night. He left his clothes with a friend because he had to go to Hawaii to play in the Pro Bowl. Prosecutors contend the clothes and other evidence was dumped in a fast-food restaurant's trash container.

Though several witnesses had testified that Lewis was involved in the fight, the player said yesterday: "It's something I don't do. I don't fight, period."

On his way out of the courthouse, Lewis reiterated that he did not kill or even hit anyone during the melee, which came as the city was celebrating the Super Bowl played here the night before.

"I was never anything in this case but a witness," Lewis said. "Thank you to all my fans who supported me."

Lewis was free to return to Baltimore, where he is expected to hold a news conference Friday. His attorney said the player may eventually seek a meeting with family members of the victims.

Move surprises jurors

Lewis' move from the defendant's table to the witness stand took jurors by surprise. One could be seen asking her seatmate where he was when the trial resumed yesterday morning. The judge explained the situation and told them not to hold the development against the remaining defendants.

Lewis' high-powered attorneys, who had commanded the center of the courtroom for three weeks, were relegated to the spectators' seats. Chief attorney Edward T. M. Garland sat with his wife.

The player's last-minute plea agreement with prosecutors and his testimony headed off what might have been a humiliating "directed verdict," by the judge to throw out the case, said Jerome Froelich, a prominent Atlanta defense attorney not connected with the case.

That puts Oakley and Sweeting in a worse situation then they had been when Lewis sat alongside them at the defense table, he said.

"They are much worse off. It is going to a jury now. Anytime your fate is in the hands of 12 people you are much worse off," Froelich said.

The case might turn on the directions the judge will give jurors and how they will interpret Georgia laws governing self-defense and deadly force, he said. And prosecutors still have a hard job before them to convince jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that the men are murderers, he said.

"They've got a good self-defense case," Froelich said.

Another Atlanta defense attorney, Mark Spix, said Lewis' testimony helped the prosecution, not because it was so damaging to Oakley and Sweeting, but because the state's case was in so much trouble.

"You're talking about a dike with thousands of holes and Ray Lewis plugged up 800 of them," Spix said. But Lewis also helped the defense by giving Sweeting and Oakley a plausible reason for being in a fight, and describing Sweeting being attacked by two men, he said.

No attack on credibility

While some legal analysts predicted that defense attorneys would attack Lewis' credibility, they didn't. Harvey even opened on a folksy note, asking the player permission to call him Ray because he was used to having him seated next to him.

Spix said the lawyers were smart not to attack Lewis, largely because his statement wasn't all that damaging to their clients.

"If I were a prosecutor I'd think he'd helped the defense a little too much," he said.

Howard said Lewis' testimony makes a self-defense theory implausible: "If what they were doing was self-defense, why would Lewis say he got disgusted by their actions and tell them to remain quiet about it?"

Attorneys for Oakley and Sweeting said Lewis didn't hurt their clients and helped portray the victims as aggressors.

"There is nothing that Ray Lewis testified to that is inconsistent with the innocence of Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting," said Bruce Harvey, Oakley's lawyer.

Lewis wasn't seeking to hurt his former co-defendants, Garland said. But "I don't think you will see him in their presence again."

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