A Baltimore County jury cleared All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis of wrongdoing yesterday and ordered two women to pay $10,000 for suing him after a fight at a Woodlawn bar in 1999.
Lewis showed no emotion as the verdict was announced, but he hugged his attorney and his mother, who sat behind him throughout the four-day trial.
"I'm just happy to win," Lewis said.
The jury, made up of six women, found the plaintiffs, Sherita A. Williams and Catrice Hill, liable for malicious prosecution and ordered each of them to pay $5,000. Both women vowed to appeal.
"Justice was not done here," said Williams, who works for her mother's cleaning service.
Ronald M. Cherry, Lewis' attorney, said the money would be donated to charity "if in fact we're ever able to collect it."
Cherry said he filed the counter suit for malicious prosecution to send a message. "The point in this case, and in any future case, is that if you come at us with a frivolous claim, we're able to go after you," he said.
But the women insisted that their claim was not frivolous.
"Ray Lewis ain't nothing, that's how I feel," said Hill, 27, a mother of four who works as a machine operator.
Williams and Hill testified that Lewis hit them during a fight that broke out when they confronted one of Lewis' friends at the Windsor Inn on Windsor Mill Road on Nov. 29, 1999.
Hill testified that Lewis' friend, whom she identified as Eric Carter, blocked them from leaving the crowded bar and pushed them. Williams then put him in a headlock, she said.
Hill testified that she was holding the man's arms to keep him from overpowering Williams. At that point, she said, Lewis rushed up and hit her, knocking her against the bar and to the floor.
Lewis then hit Williams, both women testified.
The women had one supporting witness - Hill's husband, who was not married to her at the time of the fight and was in the bar with another woman.
Under cross-examination, Hill admitted that she was fighting with "three or four men" in the bar that night.
In a statement of charges she filed at Catonsville District Court the morning after the incident, Hill described Lewis as being 5 feet, 5 inches tall and weighing 160 pounds. She testified that she was "eye-to-eye" with Lewis as he rushed at her.
Cherry told jurors that Lewis stands at 6 feet, 1 inch tall and weighs 250 pounds.
Five witnesses testified in support of Lewis' claims that he never touched the women.
Kevin Wilder, who is planning to marry Lewis' sister, testified that Williams put him - not Carter - in a headlock. He also said Lewis never hit either woman.
Baltimore County police Officer Larry Johnson, who was off duty and in the bar that night, testified that Lewis was not involved in the fight.
Officer Patrick Helphenstine, a seven-year veteran who was on duty outside the bar, testified that after the fight, Hill came outside and was "walking around screaming, `I'm going to get my rent paid.'"
"It struck me as somebody who was acting inappropriately for someone who was involved in a fight," Helphenstine testified.
A. Dwight Pettit, the women's attorney, said seven witnesses were ready to testify in support of their version of events.
But all recanted or refused to cooperate in the days before the trial. They were reluctant to testify against an All-Pro linebacker who took the Ravens to the Super Bowl last year, Pettit said.
"There's no question about it," he said. "That star power is awesome."