In aftermath of trial, many questions persist

Re-creation: Jurors never heard some key details of the January slayings in Atlanta.

Pro Football

June 18, 2000|By Jon Morgan and Marego Athans | Jon Morgan and Marego Athans,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA - As he prepared to celebrate the Super Bowl, Ray Lewis dressed to impress, not to kill.

He put on a snappy cream and black-patterned suit, custom-made by a Washington tailor for the occasion. He clasped around his neck a gold-and-diamond necklace he had just bought in a $105,000 shopping spree and put on a full-length, black mink coat and Stetson hat.

He and his friends climbed into a 37-foot Lincoln Navigator and headed for the nightclub district. Before the next day was over, the clothes would be missing and Lewis would be wearing handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit in an Atlanta jail, charged with murder.

Whatever became of his outfit remains just one of the mysteries that endures from that morning. The nearly monthlong trial that flickered out last week generated plenty of questions, but only a misdemeanor conviction and few answers for the families of two men left to bleed to death on a crowded street at 4 a.m. on Jan. 31.

The Sun has re-created events leading to the murders and their chaotic aftermath, using previously unreleased documents and interviews. However, Lewis has declined to be interviewed on any subject other than football since returning to Baltimore.

Among the details that have emerged - none of which was heard by jurors - are that the limo driver feared retaliation by Lewis' friends and the tearful football player tried to give their names to police as he was being arrested. Also, police were told one of them was a suspect in other killings and his girlfriend could implicate him in this case.

Lewis, who was not yet 25 and only a few years past the poverty of his Florida childhood, approached the Cobalt Lounge about 1 a.m. the day after the Super Bowl had been played here. He slipped the doorman some bills and his entourage glided past the horde of hopefuls still waiting in the cold.

Inside the bar, with its futuristic finishes, the Ravens linebacker was feeling "smooth," sipping Remy Martin cognac, surrounded by old friends, new friends and people he barely knew.

On his arm was not his pregnant fiancee, but the beautiful Jessica Robertson, whom he had met a few days earlier. They had both attended a party hosted by former NBA great Magic Johnson.

"She was cool. ... We was just kickin'," Lewis would later say.

With them was a limo full of other folks, including Lewis' hometown buddy Kwame King, a graduate student, and friends and friends-of-friends of Robertson's - all of whom gathered for a photograph that would have been a keepsake of those giddy pre-brawl hours, if only Robertson hadn't burned it.

In the old-friend category was Joseph Sweeting, 34, a pal from Lewis' University of Miami days who stands only 5 feet 6 but is a former high school wrestling star. He has a criminal record that includes convictions for theft, burglary and resisting arrest.

Sweeting, known as "Oomph" or "Unk," is trying to make it in the entertainment business as a promoter and producer. He has befriended rap star Luther Campbell and appears, with Lewis, in an X-rated Campbell video filmed in Cancun.

Reginald Oakley, a 31-year-old former barber from Baltimore, was a newer friend, introduced to Lewis by mutual friend Garfield Yuille, a model for the FUBU clothing line. Oakley's past brushes with the law include convictions for embezzlement, resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer.

He stands out in this saga because he's "the original wise a--," in the words of an alternate juror, the guy whose temper got him clunked in the head with a Moet bottle, which set off the whole melee that led to the slayings.

The other party

Somewhere in the Cobalt crowd was another group of partiers, who knew each other from their native Ohio. They were drinking Moet champagne and smoking "blunts" - marijuana-stuffed cigars.

Though hip, this group would rank a few sartorial notches below Lewis' set, whom they would soon battle on a darkened street. Among them were Jeff Gwen, aka Chino Nino, the rap artist who was barred by his probation on drug charges from leaving Ohio but came anyway to promote his new CD; Marlin Burros, the pit bull breeder; and Lemitrius Twitty, who was trolling for women.

And, of course, Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar. They ended up at the morgue that day.

The two had had their own trouble with the law - petty drug and firearm offenses - and had moved from Akron two years earlier seeking a fresh start.

Lollar, 24, a barber in suburban Decatur, Ga., was saving to buy his own shop. He wanted to take care of his fiancee, who was expecting a baby. He wore his favorite outfit to the Cobalt: black leather pants and cream-colored sweater with "Cleveland" stitched in red.

Baker - "Shorty" to his friends - was 21 and had a talent for drawing. He planned to someday attend art school. For his outing to the Cobalt, he crammed seven bags of marijuana and a beeper into his blue-jean pockets.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.