Trial given to the jury in Atlanta

Defense blasts Lewis

DA makes jury plea `not to be fooled'

3 weeks of testimony end

Closing argument: Lewis lied on stand

June 10, 2000|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - After three weeks of testimony from more than 40 witnesses, the murder case against Ray Lewis' former co-defendants was turned over yesterday to jurors, who promptly decided to go home and start deliberations Monday.

By law, the final word to the jurors came from Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, who delivered a passionate summation in which he asked them "not to be fooled."

Defense attorneys, in their closing arguments, took turns taking shots at their former co-defendant, suggesting that Lewis may have lied on the stand to protect a friend.

The prosecution's case was whittled down considerably in its final week. Lewis, a Ravens linebacker, agreed to a plea bargain that saw murder and assault charges against him dropped. And the judge threw out half of the case against the remaining two defendants, Reginald Oakley, 31, of Baltimore, and Joseph Sweeting, 34, of Miami.

Both men now face charges of aggravated assault and murder for their role in the fight that led to the Jan. 31 stabbing deaths of two men on a street crowded with revelers celebrating the Super Bowl. Killed at 4 a.m. were Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, both of Decatur, Ga.

Seeking sympathy for the victims, Howard displayed large photographs of the men in life and in death.

He made note of the banter among defense attorneys during the case, as well as testimony that one member of the Lewis party had laughed as the group left the scene of the street fight in a stretch limousine.

"They laughed throughout the trial, and if you find them not guilty they will continue to laugh. I ask you not to be fooled," Howard said, speaking in a booming voice filled with indignation.

He also noted that attorneys for Sweeting had asked for the jury to be instructed by the judge on the law of justification - or self-defense.

"You can't have it both ways," Howard said. "You can't say I didn't kill someone but when I killed them I was justified."

He repeated the prosecution's theory that a fight broke out after a chance, boozy encounter between members of Lewis' entourage and a group that included the victims and several of their childhood friends from Akron, Ohio.

According to prosecutors, Oakley rushed Baker with a knife, who defended himself by knocking Oakley in the head with a champagne bottle. Oakley, a one-time owner of a barber shop in Baltimore, then flipped the slightly built Baker into the air and beat and stabbed him to death, they said.

Sweeting rushed to assist Oakley but was pulled away by members of the Akron group, including Lollar. Sweeting, using a menacing pocket knife he had bought two days earlier, stabbed Lollar several times in the chest, puncturing his heart, prosecutors allege.

Howard, using a cloth dummy as a prop, recreated the testimony of one witness who saw men stomping on the victims during the brutal melee. Relatives of the dead men sobbed during his description of the violent deaths.

He said the Lewis group then fled the scene and the city, leaving a "trail of blood" throughout the limousine and in two hotels. Baker's blood was found interspersed with that of Oakley and Sweeting at several of those sites.

"When Jacinth Baker was lying in the street and it was obvious he could not fight back ... what could he do to make sure you would know what happened? He left his mark on the killer with his own blood," Howard said.

Touching on the testimony of several witnesses who said less on the stand than they had told investigators, Howard said, "We had expected that some of them would say certain things and they did not."

As a result, charges against Lewis were reduced to obstruction of justice. The judge, too, stripped charges against the remaining defendants so that each is now accused of killing one man. Originally, both were charged with killing both victims.

"Please do not hold that against Jacinth Baker or Richard Lollar," Howard said.

Equally dramatic was David Wolfe, a lawyer representing Oakley. He began by asking the jury "Anybody sure what happened? If you're not, that's a doubt," he said.

Criticizing the case for its circumstantial evidence, contradictory eyewitness testimony and inconclusive forensics, Wolfe said the case was rushed.

"People were charged and arrested and indicted before the evidence came back from the crime lab," he said.

He also suggested that Lewis rescued his lucrative NFL career by lying on the stand. Specifically, he said Lewis is the only person who testified to seeing Oakley at the sporting goods store where knives were purchased.

Wolfe alleged that the man seen by witnesses there was really Lewis' childhood friend, Kwame King, and that Lewis is protecting King. He also said another limo passenger, Carlos Stafford, may have been involved. Attorneys for both men, neither of whom have been charged in the case, did not respond to requests for comment.

Howard said he may charge another man in the case.

Wolfe noted descriptions by various witnesses that suggest people other than Oakley were assaulting Baker. One man testified to pulling off of Baker a man with braided hair and a mink coat.

"Whoever it was had hair. Reginald Oakley has no hair. It wasn't him," Wolfe said, pointing to his client's shiny scalp.

Sweeting's attorney, John Bergandahl, picked up a knife introduced into evidence by prosecutors. The knife, still in its package, had not been used in the crime but was the same "Chameleon II" model as the one Sweeting bought.

"The chameleon in this case is Mr. Howard and the prosecutors who keep changing their theories," said Bergandahl, noting the reduced charges against Lewis.

"Ray Lewis goes from being Public Enemy No. 1 to being the best friend of the state," he said. "Getting out of this case means he could go back to Baltimore and play football and make millions."

Sun staff writer Marego Athans contributed to this article.

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