Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and two acquaintances were indicted yesterday on murder and assault charges, and the city's top prosecutorinsisted Lewis "participated in the crime" that left two dead after a fight that spilled over from a Super Bowl party last month.
The grand jury indictments charge Lewis and his two acquaintances each with two counts of malice murder, felony murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
The indictments against the 24-year-old star football player dashed his lawyers' hopes that the case would quickly crumble under what they say is scant and inaccurate evidence.
Also yesterday, authorities across the country continued to search for Lewis' two associates, Reginald Oakley, 31, of Baltimore, and Joseph Sweeting, 34, of Miami. The FBI said the men should be considered armed and dangerous, and mug shots of the two were released.
In an unexpected development, officials announced that Lewis' bail hearing will be held Monday as originally scheduled. It was supposed to be postponed if the grand jury returned an indictment. Lewis has been jailed without bail since the Jan. 31 stabbings.
"The fact that the indictment came down and there's still a bond hearing, I think, is somewhat encouraging," said Ravens owner Art Modell, who is expected to represent the team at the hearing.
Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr. read the formal charges during a brief news conference that was attended by Atlanta's police chief and a small group of family members of both victims.
Lewis has not been accused of wielding the knife during the fight outside the Cobalt Lounge hours after the Super Bowl.
But Howard said Lewis "participated in the crime" by punching the victims and encouraging a fight that ended with the deaths of Richard Lollar, 24, and Jacinth Baker, 21, who reportedly had been drinking at the same bar as Lewis and his friends.
Edward T.M. Garland, the lead defense attorney, called the indictments "an outrage" and described the prosecutor's case as an attempt to blame Lewis for crimes committed by others.
Another of Lewis' lawyers, Donald F. Samuel, accused Howard of "abusing the grand jury process" by ignoring witnesses the defense team says can exonerate Lewis.
"Instead of using the grand jury to protect people's rights and investigate a crime, they have gone ahead and indicted someone with no basis of fact," Samuel said. "If the district attorney wants to indict a ham sandwich, he should just go ahead and admit it and eliminate some sort of pretense that justice is being served."
Howard would not elaborate on whether he will seek the death penalty against any or all of the defendants. He said it is one topic that will bediscussed during meetings with the victims' relatives over the next two days.
Charging a suspect with different kinds of criminal acts allows prosecutors leeway if they discuss a plea agreement or decide to give jurors a choice of charges on which to convict a defendant. Malice murder means premeditated; felony murder means committed during the commission of another crime. Both can carry the death penalty under Georgia law, but sentencing guidelines differ depending on the charge.
Vondie Boykin, an aunt of Baker's who lives in Ohio, said at the news conference that the two young men will be missed "very, very much. God is a just God, and he will see to it that justice is served."
Lewis' defense lawyers have said their investigators talked to six people who were in the limousine with Lewis on the night of the killings. Each witness, the lawyers say, backs Lewis' story that he was not involved in the fight but tried to break it up and was 100 feet from where the stabbing occurred.
Samuel said yesterday that he has furnished prosecutors with witnesses' statements and has indicated each would be willing to talk if their lawyers were present.
Had authorities interviewed the defense witnesses, Samuel said, "they wouldn't have indicted Lewis at all. We have been telling them for a week now that we have access to witnesses. They don't return our calls. They say, you got something to say, you go to the cops."
Howard responded by saying it is up to witnesses to come forward on their own.
Police reiterated yesterday that they have interviewed only the limousine driver, Duane Fassett of Severn, who told police he saw Lewis throw a punch at the victims.
Atlanta Police Chief Beverly Harvard made a plea yesterday for witnesses to come forward. She said the three identified suspects are the only people who face criminal charges in the case.
Officials would not say yesterday who testified before the grand jury. The proceedings are secret by law. Police have said they have several witnesses who were not in the limousine who saw the fight.
Prosecutors do not have to prove Lewis used the knife for him to be culpable in the slayings.
They say the player participated in a fight that led to the deaths of two people. Under the laws of most states, that would make him just as responsible in the slayings as whoever stabbed the victims.
Police said that after the scuffle in which Lewis was described as fighting Lollar, he jumped into his limo along with Sweeting and Oakley and raced from the scene. Police also said Lewis was with the two other suspects when they bought knives at a sporting goods store the day before the Super Bowl.
Police have accused Lewis of refusing to cooperate and say that what information he did tell them was misleading and purposely false. On Thursday, Howard accused Lewis of obstructing the investigation. A deputy chief publicly called him a liar.
Defense lawyers said they are mounting an all-out offensive for Monday's bail hearing. Modell, who expects to fly to Atlanta Monday, said he would be the organization's only representative at the hearing.
"We want to see him out of jail," Modell said. "I'm there as a character witness. I've had a relationship with him for four years. I know him as adevoted, extremely devoted son and father. I've got some good anecdotes and stories about him in his involvement with the Police Athletic League. He is a good citizen with some flaws we'll address later. A lot of superstars draw the wrong people. That's an area he'll have to take care of himself."
Samuel said he has submitted statements of defense witnesses to the court and hopes to make them a part of the bail proceedings. He will have to convince a judge that his client should be released pending trial because the state has inadequate evidence on which to base a charge.
"There is not enough evidence, and therefore he poses no risk of flight," Samuel said he will argue. "Who would ever flee on such flimsy charges? It's nothing more than guilt by association."
Sun staff writers Mike Preston, Ken Rosenthal and Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.