Answering questions from the media for the first time since being cleared of murder charges, a combative Ray Lewis spoke at the Ravens' Owings Mills complex for nearly 17 minutes yesterday. The All-Pro middle linebacker expressed his anger toward Atlanta prosecutors, his fire to return to football and his wish for closure.
"I'm ready to put this behind me," said Lewis, who tapped his right foot repeatedly at the podium. "This is done. This is a chapter that needs to be closed. After this is over, I'm ready to walk away from this."
Lewis, who did not have a prepared statement, said he was exhausted and made a quick exit to his Worthington Valley home immediately after speaking.
Lewis had been on trial in the stabbing deaths of two men in a street brawl Jan. 31 after the Super Bowl in Atlanta. Murder and assault charges were dropped, and Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice Monday. He testified against his former co-defendants Tuesday.
Yesterday, Lewis acknowledged lying to police during the investigation but said he holds a grudge against Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, who brought the murder charges against him.
"Yes, I'm angry at Paul Howard," Lewis said. "Because from Day One, I tried to speak to him and tell him that I was an innocent man.
"It's a feeling that I don't think I can express. I would never wish this on my worst enemy to go through what I've been through."
A minute before yesterday's news conference, Lewis' lead defense attorney, Edward Garland, tapped him on the leg and whispered, "This is the day you've been waiting for."
Later, Garland equated Lewis' misdemeanor to a speeding ticket.
"Ray Lewis was totally exonerated," Garland said.
Monday workout expected
Dressed in a vibrant yellow and brown shirt, khaki pants and sandals, Lewis seemed eager to return to the Ravens and said he expects to work out Monday, when the team begins its four-day veterans camp.
The leading tackler in the NFL last season, he has missed a mini-camp and two passing camps this spring.
"Where am I going from here?" Lewis said. "Back to what I've been doing, playing football and enjoying what I do, showing kids that there's still a passion for the game even though you're falsely accused about certain things."
Asked if the events of the past four months would affect his focus for the season, Lewis cracked a smile for the first time in front of the crowded room.
"I think I'll be more [ticked] off to hit somebody," Lewis said.
Lewis then shrugged off the suggestion that opposing players may use his arrest as ammunition for on-field trash talking.
"Honestly, I think it'll take a person that's heartless to bring this up in a conversation on the football field," Lewis said. "Regardless of what Ray Lewis does on the football field, two people are dead."
Ravens owner Art Modell and coach Brian Billick also made statements, supporting Lewis and declaring this subject off limits in the future. Billick, however, said he will continue to address his players about the issue.
The NFL decided Monday not to suspend Lewis but has not determined whether it will fine the 25-year-old player under its player conduct policy.
"We had a great deal of faith in Ray Lewis and that's been borne out, obviously," Billick said. "From this point on, today is the last time we'll discuss this. It is time to move on."
`Told the truth'
But yesterday, Lewis answered the tough questions, saying he never thought his freedom or his football career was in jeopardy. He said he did not turn his back on Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley, his former co-defendants.
"Did I really turn against them, or did I just tell the truth?" Lewis said. "To turn against somebody is having involvement in something and then turn your back on it to get yourself out of it. I never did anything. All I did was go up on the stand and told the truth."
When asked why he left two men for dead and did not call police, he said, "There's a lot of things that we don't immediately do. Like I said, you're in situations that you've never been in your life, so you just react. And when you react, your reactions are not all the time right."
So, would Lewis react differently if he could do it again?
"I can't tell you," Lewis said.
Does he think he did anything wrong in lying to the police?
"I think what I did wrong," Lewis said, "I'm paying for now with 12 months of probation.
"I've faced fourth-down-and-one a lot of times and, you know, I have guys who know that I'm gonna step up in that position. But when it's fourth-down-and-life, you don't know what to do in that situation. And that's what happened when the police approached me and I gave a false statement to them. When you're dealing with fourth-and-life, you never know what you're going to do. I'm angry, I'm mad at myself for the situation I put my family in. I take all responsibility for that."
Lewis said he learned some life-altering lessons following two weeks in jail and two weeks on trial for murder.
"If there's anything I'll change in my lifestyle, it's the choices I make," he said.
"I've always been a guy who's made great choices. Everybody stumbles every once in a while, but I don't think it's about stumbling. It's about recovering, to see where you go from there."