A Georgia Superior Court judge yesterday ruled that Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis can be freed on $1 million bail when she rejectedarguments from prosecutors that the star football player would fail to show up for his trial on murder charges.
Lawyers for the 24-year-old Baltimore player said they will post $500,000 in cash and the rest in a bond backed by property to gain their client's release, which is expected today.
Lewis, who has been held without bail since Jan. 31 in the deaths of two men in the early morning hours after the Super Bowl, will be permitted to return to his home in Owings Mills, Md. He was indicted Friday with acquaintances Joseph L. Sweeting of Miami and Reginald Oakley of Maryland.
Superior Court Judge Doris L. Downs imposed a lengthy list of restrictions -- prohibiting Lewis from leaving Maryland, except to travel to Atlanta for his case, and from drinking alcohol or using drugs. She also imposed a 9 p.m. curfew on the highest-paid linebacker in football. A trial could be at least six months away.
"I loved what happened," Ravens owner Art Modell said last night after testifying on Lewis' behalf. "It's not a trial, it's not an acquittal. Butit's an indication that the case is weak. ... Hopefully, the authorities will eventually see they don't have a case, and they'll drop the charges."
After more than seven hours of testimony, Downs ruled 10 minutes after lawyers on both sides had completed their closing arguments. The court had heard from preachers, professional football players, a school principal, police, an FBI agent and Modell.
Sweeting, accompanied by his attorney, surrendered at Atlanta Police headquarters yesterday morning. Oakley is expected to surrender in Atlanta today, his lawyer said.
Police say that the three men fought with Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, outside the Cobalt Lounge after a star-studded party. Both men died of stab wounds, and police say Lewis and the others jumped into a rented limo and sped from the scene.Downs termed the murder charges "a very serious case," but said the state failed to prove that Lewis will not show up in court.
"I'm happy for Ray and his family," Modell said. "His life and his career are at stake. He'll be back home soon and that's where he needs to be."
In the courtroom, Lewis' relatives reacted to the judge's ruling with happiness and hugged members of the defense team. Supporters grabbed cell phones and called friends in Maryland with the news.
Members of the victims' families left the courtroom in disbelief. They were not allowed to address the court because the judge ruled the prosecutor had exceeded his time limit. "This is to show you that money talks," said Joyce Lollar, the victim's aunt who noted that relatives had flown from Ohio in hopes of speaking.
"The Atlanta mayor told me justice would be done. We're still waiting."
The unusually long hearing, which the judge blamed on intense media interest, delved into many facets of this complex celebrity case, but came down to a relatively simple question: Who is the real Ray Lewis?
Defense lawyers portrayed him as a generous family man who has to be restrained from giving too much to charity, and as a helpful, quiet, humble lover of children and of God who wouldn't throw away his $26 million football contract by skipping out on bail.
Lewis' mother, Sunseria Keith, faced down a tough cross-examination by a prosecutor who asked her repeatedly and loudly how she could be sure her son is innocent.
"Because I gave him life," she said from the witness stand. "And raised him very well. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that my son would not pick up a knife and kill someone. I raised him better."
But prosecutors painted a picture of a woman abuser and a womanizer who fled from the scene of a killing, lied to police to cover for a friend,disposed of incriminating evidence and paid for drug dealers to join him on expensive jaunts to Atlanta strip clubs.
"The conduct of this defendant is outrageous," said Clinton K. Rucker, assistant district attorney. "When two people were dying in the middle of the street, he didn't have time to pick up the phone and dial 911. But he did have time to call his agent, the man entrusted with his career. He doesn't deserve bond because he obstructed justice."
Lewis has not been accused of wielding the knife, but he is accused of being an active participant in a fight that ended with two deaths. If that is proven, he would be culpable.
Defense lawyers have claimed that Lewis was not involved in the fight and only tried to break it up. They said he might have thrown a punch to stop the fracas. They say he was about 100 feet from where the stabbings occurred, didn't see them and did not know anyone had been killed until hours later.
A parade of witnesses strongly backed Lewis' many charitable acts, and relatives testified how he raised his siblings in the absence of a father and how he pays for homes for his mother and bought her a Mercedes for Christmas.
Downs ruled that the family ties, though they are not in Georgia, are sufficient to believe Lewis will not skip out on bail.
Prosecutors relied heavily on their contention that Lewis obstructed the investigation.
Special Agent Peter W. McFarlane of the FBI testified that he searched Lewis' Atlanta hotel room the evening of the slayings and that it appeared the occupants had left Room 802 of the Georgian Terrace in a hurry, leaving it disheveled with empty hangers strewn on the floor.
The fingerprints of Oakley and Sweeting were found throughout the room, with bloodstains on a white bathrobe, three pillowcases and a tissue discarded in the kitchen trash, he said. Prosecutors filed a motion yesterday to compel Lewis to give them a blood sample.
Prosecutors claimed Lewis lied to throw off the investigation in making his initial statement to an Atlanta homicide detective, Lt. Mike Smith. When Smith asked him to name who was in the limo with him, Lewis answered: "Jaye, three girls, A. J. Johnson, a couple of dudes and me. I don't know who they were."
Smith said Lewis declined to go to the police station and look at pictures of possible suspects.
Smith testified that Lewis' misleading answers led them to question and name an A. J. Johnson of Maryland, who knew Lewis but never was in Atlanta.
"We were not able to, and haven't to this day, located all the people who were in the limousine with Lewis," he said.
Lead defense attorney Edward T. M. Garland denied that his client had obstructed justice. He noted that Lewis returned a voice mail left by Atlanta police on his cell phone and agreed to meet with detectives at a friend's house.
Garland said the detective threatened to ruin Lewis' career if the player id not cooperate, scaring him into giving vague answers. The lawyer also claims that Lewis was truthful about A. J. because Oakley's nickname is A. J.
Garland tried to poke holes in the state's case by arguing that it was too eak to win a conviction, and that should entitle Lewis to bail. The judge allowed some questioning along that line, but noted it is early in the investigation and months before trial.
The lawyer spent hours building Lewis' character through various witnesses, starting with Keith, his mother, who called Lewis an exceptional child who took on the responsibility of raising his siblings when he was a teen-ager.
His love for her, she said, will ensure his availability for trial. "Ray will be here," she said. "He has too many responsibilities. Ray wouldn't fleehis mother. I would have no place to stay. Ray is all the income that I have."
Modell, the Ravens owner, took the stand and defended his marquee player asa standout among the thousands of football players he has known in his 40 years in the business.
"He's devoted to the cause of winning," Modell said. "He's a winner himself -- a big winner. When he got his signing bonus, he told me he wanted to buy his mother a house."
Warren Sapp, a defensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who attended the University of Miami with Lewis, described his friend as a devoted family man. "I would allow him to watch over my kids, and they are the most precious things in the world."
Prosecutors went on the offensive with the 13 witnesses who spoke of Lewis in glowing terms. They asked each one if they would be surprised to learn that Lewis fled the scene and refused to cooperate with police, and whether he had ever assaulted women.
Prosecutors spent much of their time talking about Oakley and Sweeting, who are convicted felons. Police allege they bought a knife used in the slayings at a suburban Atlanta store a day before the Super Bowl as Lewis participated in an NFL-sponsored autograph session.
Rucker, the lead prosecutor, showed a photograph seized from Lewis' Owings Mills home that shows Sweeting with his arm on Lewis' shoulder. He said Lewis told police he does not know Sweeting.
Lewis knew Sweeting as "Oonk," as did Sapp, who described him as a "hanger-on," someone who attaches himself to their crowd and "was everywhere."
Rucker asked whether a "hanger-on" would be "flown into Atlanta for the Super Bowl, ride around in limousines, go to autograph sessions with Lewis and go to strip clubs with him to buy table dances."
Sweeting, 34, has been linked to a violent South Florida street gang responsible for drive-by shootings and narcotics trafficking.
He has been convicted of burglary, grand theft, grand theft auto, resisting arrest without violence, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
In Maryland, the stretch limousine that carried Lewis from the site of the fatal stabbing has been cleaned and put back into service.
Tony Toskov, owner of All Stretched Out Limousine Service, said the limo has three bullet holes on its front right side.
Sun staff writers Mike Preston and Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.