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False statement is admissible, judge rules

Published Sep. 27, 2005

The defense had argued that a statement to police was coerced.

A false statement given to police by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is admissible as evidence in his murder trial, a Superior Court judge ruled Monday.

Defense attorneys argued that two Atlanta police officers coerced the statement by threatening to destroy Lewis' career if he didn't cooperate.

Superior Court Judge Alice D. Bonner ruled the statement was "freely and voluntarily given."

Lewis, a three-time NFL All-Pro, and co-defendants Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting are charged in the Jan. 31 stabbing deaths of Jacinth "Shorty" Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, during a brawl after a post-Super Bowl party.

Opening statements start today, and the trial is expected to last several weeks.

A jury of 10 blacks and two whites was chosen Monday. It consists of nine black women, one black man, one white man and one white woman. The five alternate jurors are three black women, one white woman and one white man.

Defense attorneys said they were pleased with the jury. They said they managed to get rid of the potential jurors most dangerous to the defense.

"We didn't use all of our strikes," said Bruce Harvey, Oakley's attorney. "That should be an indication of how the defense collectively feels about the jury."

The defense could have eliminated 12 potential jurors but used 10 "strikes" during the selection. The prosecution used all six of its strikes.

After jury selection, the most significant issue remaining Monday was whether to admit Lewis' statement.

Lewis, who was staying at a friend's house in Norcross on the morning after the killing, refused to go to the police station to give a statement based on the advice of a lawyer. He agreed to give a written statement to Atlanta police Lt. Michael Smith.

In that statement, Lewis named only two people in the Lincoln Navigator limousine that was seen speeding from the scene. He did not name either Sweeting or Oakley.

"I was leaving Cobalt nightclub," Lewis' statement said. "And on my way to my limousine a fight broke out way up past my limousine. We saw it, I grabbed my people, we hopped in my truck, we left. While we're driving off, we heard gun shots. We left the scene, and that is basically it."

Smith testified Monday that he told Lewis if he didn't cooperate it could embarrass him, the Ravens and the NFL.

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said he was pleased the judge rejected the motion to suppress.

"It's always important for the jurors to hear from the defendant himself," Howard said.

Prosecutors have said in court documents that the defendants chased Baker and Lollar and started fighting with them after an argument at the Cobalt Lounge. Defense lawyers for Lewis have said the 25-year-old NFL star didn't stab anyone and acted as a peacemaker.