Originally created 05/24/00

Trial of NFL player begins

ATLANTA -- Prosecutors have no witnesses who saw a knife in Ray Lewis' hands, but Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said Tuesday that a blood trail links the NFL star to the scene of a double killing.

In his opening statement, Mr. Howard said Mr. Lewis kicked and punched the victims outside an Atlanta nightclub Jan. 31, but he did not say Mr. Lewis stabbed the men.

Defense attorneys portrayed the football star as a peacemaker who "did not kill or stab anyone."

Mr. Lewis, a Baltimore Ravens linebacker and the leading tackler in the NFL last year, is charged with murder along with Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting in the stabbing deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar of Decatur.

Instead of blaming each other's clients for the killings, the defense attorneys generally stuck together and used their opening statements to cast doubt on the prosecutor's case.

They said no witness ever saw any of the defendants holding a knife. Mr. Howard said the knives were used in a punching motion -- not an overhand stab -- making it difficult for anyone to see them.

Mr. Lewis' attorney, Ed Garland, poked holes in the police version of the night's events, noting that police have never found two men in Mr. Lewis' limousine and several witnesses disagree with statements made by limousine driver Duane Fassett, the prosecution's star witness.

Mr. Garland said Mr. Lewis never knew knives were used in the fight and did not kick or punch any of the victims.

"All of Ray Lewis' actions were actions to attempt to stop the fight, to attempt to break up the fight," Mr. Garland said.

Both sides said a verbal argument led to a fight between two groups of people at about 4 a.m. as the nightclubs in the Buckhead district were closing.

The 5-foot-3 Mr. Baker, whom the district attorney referred to over and over as "little Jacinth Baker," apparently started the brawl by hitting Mr. Oakley in the head with a champagne bottle.

"At that point, in a flash, there was chaos," Mr. Garland said, adding that different witnesses had told very different stories about the short fight.

Mr. Howard said one witness, Chester Anderson, will tell jurors he saw Mr. Lewis kicking a body lying in the street. Mr. Anderson is in jail on identification fraud charges.

Mr. Howard said Mr. Fassett, the driver of Mr. Lewis' rented limousine, would testify that he saw Mr. Lewis punch Mr. Lollar. Mr. Fassett also will testify that he overheard Mr. Oakley and Mr. Sweeting admit stabbing someone, Mr. Howard said.

Mr. Sweeting's lawyer, John Bergendahl, said Mr. Fassett was hard of hearing and had a hard time understanding the speech of young black males. Mr. Bergendahl also said Mr. Sweeting was beaten by friends of the victims and never stabbed anyone.


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