After watching cover all week long and for interminable hours on Sunday, I think the media in general, and CBS in particular, were extremely unfair to Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis. While Lewis certainly deserved his share of moral censure, CBS seemed intent on building up his role in last year’s post-Super Bowl murder to a point that the facts don’t support. Specifically several CBS commentators said before the game that two men were tragically murdered after last year’s Super Bowl, but that Lewis has never told the truth about the incident. The first claim is certainly true, but the latter claim is an outright lie.
Lewis, in fact, testified in court in early June about the events that transpired after the Super Bowl. According to Lewis, he went with friends Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting to an Atlanta nightclub. While hanging around outside the nightclub, Oakley was hit in the face with a champagne bottle and as Lewis testified, “all hell broke loose.” Oakley and Sweeting were eventually charged with murdering Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar in the ensuing brawl (Baker, according to testimony at the trial, was responsible for throwing the champagne bottle at Oakley).
Lewis testified that he had seen Oakley and Sweeting each brandishing knives the day before the fight. During the fight Lewis testified that he saw Oakley vigorously kicking one of the victims while a second person held the victim down.
Furthermore, Lewis testified about an extremely incriminating conversation he had with Sweeting after the brawl. Lewis said he asked Sweeting what happened. Sweeting, while making slashing motions with a knife he was holding in his fist, said, “Everytime they hit me, I hit them.”
Was Lewis actively involve in the brawl? Possibly, but certainly not to level of murder. Although the prosecution had promised that it would call witnesses to testify that they had seen Lewis throwing punches, when placed on the stand those witnesses said that in fact they had not directly seen Lewis hitting anyone. The only prosecution witness who testified to seeing Lewis actively hitting and kicking people turned out to be a convicted felon who was in jail for identity theft at the time of Lewis’ trial. The most damning point of the trial for the prosecution was when a witness prosecutors had claimed would testify that Lewis punched one of the dead men in fact testified that he heard Lewis screaming numerous times for everyone involved to stop fighting.
The case against Lewis was so weak, that it’s hard not to believe that the point of prosecutor’s including him in the indictment was to rattle him enough to strike a deal as he eventually did, pleading guilty to obstruction of justice.
On that count, Lewis’ behavior was extremely shameful. Lewis may not have murdered the two defendants, but he instructed several witnesses not to talk to police about what they had seen that night. If that had been the focus of the media scrutiny — Lewis’ abject irresponsibility in the immediate aftermath of the brawl — that would have been fair enough, but in fact many in the media seemed intent on intimating the Lewis himself might have had a direct role in the murders, which was completely contradicted by every bit of evidence at his trial.
Finally, media commentators intimated that it was Ray Lewis’ fault that to date nobody has been jailed for the two brutal murders. In fact the responsibility there rests largely with prosecutors. Even with Lewis’ extremely incriminating testimony, a jury found both Oakley and Sweeting not guilty on all charges. Why?
Because the prosecutors vastly overplayed their hand. Even though the evidence against Oakley and Sweeting was compelling to most observers, the prosecutor had walked in on day one and said this was an open and shut case. Then they had to drop Ray Lewis as a defendant, most of the witnesses recanted or modified their stories substantially, and in a few cases prosecutors misrepresented exactly what some witnesses had told police.
On top of that, prosecutors never managed to locate a witness who would testify they saw Oakley and Sweeting stab the victims. The resulting lack of eye witnesses to the murder itself combined with the prosecutors’s lack of credibility in the eyes of the jury resulted in the likely murders going free. Although it was a very self serving comment, in many ways Lewis wasn’t too far off the mark when he said earlier in the week that prosecutors were so intent on bringing down Lewis as a celebrity that they forgot about the case in front of them.