. PRO FOOTBALLPRO FOOTBALL; Lewis's Friends Acquitted
Published: June 13, 2000
ATLANTA, June 12— Two friends and former co-defendants of the football player Ray Lewis were acquitted of murder and assault charges today in the stabbings of two men after a post-Super Bowl party.
The jury deliberated less than five hours before returning the verdicts in the trial of Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley.
The verdicts came just hours after Lewis practiced with the Baltimore Ravens for the first time since pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge and testifying for the prosecution in the murder case.
Oakley hugged his lawyer, Bruce Harvey, who pumped his fist in exuberance when the verdicts were announced. Sweeting leaned over and put his head on the defense table.
Sweeting, Oakley and Lewis were charged with murder, felony murder and aggravated assault in the Jan. 31 deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar, who were stabbed outside the party in Atlanta's Buckhead district.
Lewis, a linebacker who was the National Football League's top tackler last season, reached a plea agreement with District Attorney Paul Howard last week. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction-of-justice charge, testified against Oakley and Sweeting, and will serve a year of probation, but no jail time.
The Ravens' minicamp in Owings Mills, Md., was finished by the time the verdicts came down, and Lewis was unavailable for comment. The Ravens said they would have no comment on the acquittals.
Sweeting, a longtime friend of Lewis's from Miami, was charged with Lollar's death. Oakley, an acquaintance of Lewis's from Baltimore, was charged with Baker's death.
Both faced life in prison if convicted, but the jury found them innocent on all counts.
''We are deeply, deeply disappointed in the verdict,'' Howard said.
Baker and Lollar were stabbed during a street fight that erupted around 4 a.m. as the nightclubs in the Buckhead district were closing after the Super Bowl, which was held in Atlanta.
In closing arguments, the district attorney conceded that no witness saw Sweeting or Oakley stab anyone. Instead, Howard insisted there was enough circumstantial evidence to warrant a murder conviction.
Howard plans to review the case and may bring charges against other people who were in Lewis's limousine. But those are not likely to be murder charges