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Years later, murder case still echoes for Ray Lewis, families

Ravens star says events outside Atlanta club changed his life

January 10, 2013|By Carrie Wells, The Baltimore Sun

Priscilla Lollar said both families, and the mother of Richard's daughter, are trying to move on. They still don't know exactly what happened that night.

"I was in the dark on a lot of things," said Lollar. She said she did not attend the trial, although other members of the family went.

The trial in Fulton County did not go well for prosecutors. Some outside experts said at the time that the prosecution was sloppy and the charges against Lewis, Sweeting and Oakley had been rushed. Others noted that witnesses had changed their stories.

Two weeks into the trial, prosecutors agreed to drop the murder charges against Lewis if he would plead guilty to a charge of obstruction of justice and testify against Sweeting and Oakley, who had criminal records that included convictions for theft, burglary and resisting arrest. The obstruction-of-justice charge was related to Lewis' telling those who left in the limo after the fight that they should keep quiet about the incident.

Lewis testified that he tried to stop the fight and that Sweeting and Oakley bought knives the day before they ended up at the nightclub. Lewis testified that he asked Oakley later what happened. "I said this is all on me," Lewis told the court. "My career is over because you guys tripping."

After less than six hours of deliberation, the jury acquitted Sweeting and Oakley; neither man could be reached for comment for this article. Lewis had a year of probation for the misdemeanor charge and was fined $250,000 by the National Football League for violating its conduct policy.

Sharpe, a Hall of Famer who joined the Ravens soon after Lewis was arrested, said this week that the two talked on numerous occasions that year about the experience.

"I'm sure he felt bad that two men lost their lives, tragically," Sharpe said. "His name will forever be attached to that. I told him ... a great portion of people will always remember you for what transpired in Atlanta; you can't change that, no matter if you win 10 Super Bowls."

Faye Lollar, Richard's aunt, says of Lewis: "I had to forgive him to start my life and live my life. Richard was a big part of our lives, for him to be taken so harsh, it was just devastating. Everybody's trying to go on with their lives. Ray don't even cross our minds."

Priscilla Lollar says justice will come eventually. "I trust in God that he's going to take care of it," she said. "I can't do nothing about it."

A few years after the incident, Lewis settled civil lawsuits with both families. Richard Lollar's daughter received about $1 million, according to news reports; the Bakers' settlement was not disclosed publicly. Police consider the case closed.

Lewis helped lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl win in the season that followed the trial, and he has been widely praised for his charitable work. His Ray Lewis 52 Foundation has, among other things, distributed food and school supplies to Baltimore families.

Ravens senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne declined to comment this week about the Atlanta incident, saying that the case has been resolved.

When approached in the team locker room after practice Thursday by a USA Today reporter, Lewis wasn't happy about the topic being broached. He declined to discuss it, saying, "Really, really. Why would I talk about that? That was 13 years ago."

In a 2010 interview with the Baltimore Sun, however, Lewis opened up about the killings.

"I'm telling you, no day leaves this Earth without me asking God to ease the pain of anybody who was affected by that whole ordeal," he said. "He's a God who tests people — not that he put me in that situation, because he didn't make me go nowhere. I put myself in that situation.

"But if I had to go through all of that over again ... I wouldn't change a thing. Couldn't. The end result is who I am now."

Former teammate Sharpe noted that Disney, the company that passed over Lewis for a Super Bowl MVP commercial in 2001, is involved in a post-retirement deal with him. ESPN, a Disney subsidiary, will hire Lewis as an NFL commentator, according to news reports.

"That shows you how someone can rehabilitate their life," Sharpe said. "I'm sure there are some people that still dislike Ray for what transpired in Atlanta, but I know a different Ray Lewis."

Baltimore Sun Staff writer Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.

cwells@baltsun.com

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