Lewis case unraveled in light of the truth

June 14, 2000|By Gregory Kane

RAY LEWIS - Baltimore Ravens linebacker to Charm City's television stations, but "former murder suspect" to Atlanta's - stood in front of cameras and microphones Friday afternoon to let the world know he's an angry man.

"Yes, I'm angry at [Fulton County] District Attorney Paul Howard," Lewis said at the news conference at the Ravens' Owings Mills training complex. "Because from Day One, I tried to speak to him and tell him that I was an innocent man." Lewis didn't say so explicitly, but he implied that he would have stood a better chance of getting a dead dog to roll over than of getting Howard to see reason.

Less than three days later, a jury proved Lewis right. Not only was he innocent, but the jury in the murder case against his former co-defendants, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, said they were innocent, too. The two were acquitted on all counts. Left with egg on his face and much explaining to do was Howard, who misled Atlantans, Fulton County residents and the nation from the start of the sordid business that left Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar dead of stab wounds in the morning darkness of Jan. 31.

Apparently, Howard hadn't counted on 12 Georgians in the year 2000 still knowing what self-defense is. That's what this case boiled down to. Forget what we media types - who had Lewis all but pressing license plates back in February - told you before. Forget all those comparisons to former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth, who has been charged with arranging his girlfriend's murder. Pay no heed to those snide cracks we journalists made about the NFL standing for "National Felony League."

Think now only about Howard and how he told the world that Baker and Lollar were innocent victims who were chased, beaten and fatally stabbed by Lewis - your basic violent, overwrought and overpaid NFL superstar - and two homicidal maniacs named Oakley and Sweeting.

The lie started to unravel the first day of testimony, when a prosecution witness said she saw a man in a red jacket stab one of the victims. This left Howard with a certain problem: Neither Lewis nor Oakley nor Lollar was wearing a red jacket.

The second day of testimony was even worse. The prosecution's own witnesses laid the groundwork for a self-defense argument. Contrary to what Howard had been telling the world for four months, it seems Baker and Lollar - according to the testimony of two of their friends - revived a confrontation.

Chris Shinholster and Jeff Gwen, both of Akron, Ohio, testified that Gwen uttered an insult that Oakley, passing by, thought was meant for him. Both testified that Lewis grabbed Oakley, urged him to calm down and led him back to their limousine. Both agreed that the entire Lewis party was in the limo and about to pull off. Then Baker and Lollar walked up. Baker asked Gwen what happened. Gwen said it was just some guys talking trash and that the incident was over. But apparently the combination of booze, blunts and testosterone was too much for Baker.

Baker shouted expletives and challenges as he walked toward the limo. Lollar, not to be one-upped in the macho idiocy sweepstakes, walked toward the limo and shouted similar taunts and proclaimed, This is O-H-10!"

Lollar was serving notice to the limo occupants that he and his buddies were really tough hombres - from Ohio (O-H-10) no less. As if to drive the point home, Baker hit Oakley across the head with a full bottle of champagne after Oakley leaped from the car to meet this challenge to his twisted sense of manhood.

As Lewis testified last week, all hell broke loose from that point. Jurors in the case concluded that Oakley, who could have been killed with that bottle, acted in self-defense. They apparently concluded the same for Sweeting, who, Lewis testified, was fighting two guys, both bigger than him.

The only one found guilty - for obstructing justice by lying to police - was Lewis.

"I've faced fourth-and-one a lot of times," Lewis said at the news conference in explaining his duplicity. But, he said, "when it's fourth-down-and-life, you don't know what to do in that situation."

For those of you inclined to self-righteously shake your heads and cluck that Lewis shouldn't have lied under any circumstances, you might want to consider that most folks stopped for speeding - a misdemeanor - lie to police officers. Lewis' obstruction of justice charge is a misdemeanor.

Those who claim that Lewis lied about a murder case are wrong again. As the facts of the case proved - and a jury agreed - this was a case of self-defense.

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