| ||Thursday, February 3|
|ATLANTA -- Baltimore Ravens All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis was at a post-Super Bowl brawl in which two people were stabbed to death but was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, his lawyer said Tuesday.
Lewis, 24, wearing a red prison uniform with his hands shackled in front of him, appeared in court on two counts of murder in the slayings, which took place in Atlanta's trendy Buckhead neighborhood about 4 a.m. Monday.
Tuesday's preliminary hearing on the charges was postponed until Feb. 24 at the request of prosecutor Larry Gardner, who said he needed more time to confer with witnesses and police. No bail was set, and Lewis will remain jailed until the hearing.
The murder charges carry life in prison or the death penalty, if prosecutors pursue it.
Lewis is the second NFL player in less than a month accused of murder. Former Carolina Panthers receiver Rae Carruth was charged with first-degree murder Jan. 4 in the death of his girlfriend Cherica Adams, who was pregnant with his son at the time of the drive-by shooting the previous month.
Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty against Carruth. The baby, Chancellor Lee Adams, was born prematurely and survived. Carruth was released by the Panthers after Adams died.
NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue had no comment on Lewis' arrest, but Gene Washington, the NFL's chief disciplinarian, called it "devastating."
"We've had a tough year as it goes anyway with the Rae Carruth situation," he told One on One sports radio network in Chicago. "We certainly, for his own good, hope that it's not true, and for the good of the NFL."
Tagliabue commented Friday on the rash of criminal charges against players.
"Can we separate ourselves from society? Of course not," Tagliabue said. "We can't predict what NFL players will do any more than we can predict students shooting other students or workers shooting fellow workers."
The Ravens said they have not taken any action against Lewis and have not spoken with him.
Asked if the team was considering releasing Lewis, Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said, "Until due process of the law is completed, that will not be addressed."
Several of Lewis' teammates reacted with disbelief at his arrest.
"That's my man," Ravens cornerback Rod Woodson, whose locker is next to Lewis', said from the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. "I hope it ain't true. That's all I can say."
"He's always been a good guy," another Pro Bowler, linebacker Peter Boulware, told One on One. "Everyone in the locker room likes him. I mean, he rallies our team together. I can't say enough good things about Ray."
The victims were stabbed repeatedly during a fight about 200 yards from the Cobalt lounge, where a party had emptied into the street.
"You go out and you get around different people," Boulware said. "Some people may not like you because of who you are. They put you in bad situations. I can see that maybe that's the only reason this happened."
According to witnesses, six men fought and argued with the victims before fleeing in a black stretch limousine, firing at least five shots as they drove away. Police found the limousine a few hours later.
"We're taking the position that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Lewis' lawyer, Max Richardson Jr., said outside court. "From what I've gathered from law enforcement officers, they know Ray didn't kill these unfortunate victims."
He said police were searching for other suspects.
"They don't know where the other two men who were involved are, so they arrested Ray," Richardson said.
Lewis was the only suspect identified by police.
Police spokeswoman Marion Lee would not comment on whether other suspects were being sought or why murder charges were filed.
The victims were identified as Jacinth "Shorty" Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, both of suburban Decatur, Ga. One man died at the scene, the other at Grady Memorial Hospital.
Despite the report of shots, police said the preliminary investigation indicated both victims were stabbed to death.
Lollar's grandmother said several of Lollar's friends told her he had been trying to break up a fight between Baker and an unidentified man when a group of men ambushed them.
Joyce Lollar, speaking from Akron, Ohio, said her grandson and his girlfriend were expecting a baby next month.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday that police were holding Lewis' limousine driver under guard in a hotel room while they hunted for others in the pro football star's entourage.
Detectives said they were gathering information for murder warrants on at least two more men who were with Lewis in his limousine Monday morning, but they would not identify the men, the paper said. It said one officer believed that they were not active NFL players.
Charles Cook, operating partner of the Cobalt, said there was no altercation at the club, which closed about half an hour before the slayings. He said Lewis had been at the club earlier in the week, but did not know if he was there Sunday night.
The Cobalt is a sleek, upscale lounge featuring vinyl-covered chairs and chrome-plated fixtures. It is in the heart of Atlanta's nightclub district, where thousands of revelers spill into the streets every weekend.
The club was closed Monday after a "Super Bowl Champagne Blowout" the previous evening. Super Bowl XXXIV, won 23-16 by the St. Louis Rams over the Tennessee Titans, was played about seven miles away at the Georgia Dome.
The Cobalt has come under criticism from neighborhood businesses because of a recent killing. On Jan. 17, a man was shot to death near the club.
Lewis, in Atlanta for an autograph-signing session and to attend the Super Bowl, was questioned Monday and postponed a flight to Hawaii, where he was to have appeared Sunday in his third straight Pro Bowl after leading the NFL in tackles this season.
"I cooperated fully," Lewis told The (Baltimore) Sun before his arrest. He wouldn't comment further.
Ravens owner Art Modell told The Sun, "I don't believe he had anything to do with it. I'm going to give Ray the benefit of the doubt and defend him until something is proven otherwise."
Richardson said he had spent only a few minutes with Lewis before the hearing.
"Ray is doing fine," he said. "He believes the system will ultimately show that he is innocent of these heinous crimes."
Lewis has led the Ravens in tackles each of the past four seasons. The middle linebacker, who led the league with 167 tackles this season, signed a four-year contract extension in 1998 for a reported $26 million.
But Lewis has had problems off the field. On Nov. 30, he was accused of punching a woman in a Baltimore bar and then leaving the scene. The woman, Katrice Sherree Parker, filed a criminal complaint and Lewis faces a second-degree assault charge. Authorities said Tuesday the case will not go to trial if the charge cannot be substantiated.
Lewis, an All-American at Miami, finished second in the voting for the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker. He left college after his junior season and was selected by Baltimore in the first round of the 1996 NFL draft.
Lewis, born in Bartow, Fla., grew up in a single-parent household along with a brother and three sisters. At Miami, his best friend, Hurricanes linebacker Marlin Barnes, was beaten to death in an off-campus apartment in 1996. Barnes' girlfriend also was killed.
Lewis called his slain friend "my motivation" and usually wore a shirt with Barnes' picture under his jersey.
"I know he's in a better place," Lewis once said. "I see him every day. I talk to him every day."
Medical examiner in Lewis case says wounds offer clues
Off-field violence plaguing NFL
Kreidler: Perception takes another blow
Lewis' once-limitless future now in doubt
Seau takes Lewis' spot on AFC Pro Bowl roster
Response: Are fans turned off to sports?
Ray Lewis is brought into court.
RealVideo: | 28.8
Ravens tackle Jonathan Ogden says the evidence will exonerate Lewis.
wav: 134 k
RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6
Michael McCrary believes in Ray Lewis.
wav: 96 k
RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6
Rod Woodson is worried about his friend.
wav: 107 k
RealAudio: 14.4 | 28.8 | 56.6