Originally created 05/01/00

Video dims linebacker's defense



ATLANTA -- Baltimore Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis, who is charged with murder in the stabbing deaths of two men, appears with a co-defendant in a sexually explicit mail-order video, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday.

The video shows Mr. Lewis and Joseph Sweeting eagerly watching party guests perform sex acts for money.

The images could make it difficult for Mr. Lewis' lawyers to continue their defense strategy, which has been to portray Mr. Lewis as a devoted family man who hardly knows Mr. Sweeting and the other co-defendant, Reginald Oakley.

The videotape, which is available by mail order, is called Luke's Freak Show: Cancun 1999 and was produced at a party thrown in the Mexican resort town by rap musician Luther Campbell.

In it, Mr. Lewis enters with Mr. Sweeting and dances shirtless between two scantily dressed and gyrating women.

Mr. Campbell, leader of the rap group 2 Live Crew, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he is friends with both Mr. Lewis and Mr. Sweeting, a fledging music producer and strip club promoter from Miami. The three met when Mr. Lewis was playing with the University of Miami Hurricanes.

Some legal experts say the video has limited relevance in the case.

"The prejudice of that sort of tape greatly outweighs its probative value," said Alan Baverman, an Atlanta criminal defense attorney.

But prosecutors likely would disagree, saying it shows that co-defendant Mr. Sweeting is a good friend of Mr. Lewis, not the casual hanger-on that the defense has said he is.

Mr. Campbell, who wears Mr. Lewis' No. 52 Ravens jersey while promoting videos and CDs on his Web site, called Mr. Sweeting "a good friend of Ray's."

Mr. Oakley, the other co-defendant, does not appear in the video, which has not been mentioned in briefs on either side of the case.

Mr. Sweeting has a long criminal history, including convictions for grand theft and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. But his family says the charges, which stem from the mid-'80s, are ancient history.

"Joe had some problems, but that's all long ago," his brother Anthony Sweeting said. "Some of that is 15 years ago, half his life."

Mr. Oakley also has a significant criminal past, with about 25 criminal counts against him between 1985 and 1992. Charges include assault, embezzlement, possession of a stolen vehicle, and assault on a police officer.

According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mr. Oakley met Mr. Lewis while living in the home of model and former U.S. League basketball player Garfield Yuille.

At the time of the stabbings, Mr. Oakley was a member of Mr. Lewis' limousine party. A would-be record and film producer, Mr. Oakley was reportedly trying to make contacts among the celebrities attending the Super Bowl.

Mr. Lewis, Mr. Sweeting and Mr. Oakley are accused of killing Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, both of Decatur, during a street fight in the Buckhead entertainment district in Atlanta.

Motions in the case are scheduled for today, and the trial is slated to begin May 15.