Ravens star held in slayings

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis was charged with first-degree murder last night in the stabbing deaths of two men outside an Atlanta nightclub in the early morning after a night of Super Bowl parties.

In arresting Lewis, Atlanta police said he was suspected of being one of several men who fled the scene of the killings in a limousine.

Earlier yesterday, Lewis told The Sun that he had been cleared by Atlanta police to leave the city, and he had been expected to fly to Hawaii this morning for the Pro Bowl game Sunday.

Ravens head coach Brian Billick said the team would issue no statement until after Lewis, 24, appears in Atlanta Municipal Court, which he was expected to do at 8 a.m. today.

Lewis' attorney, Carey Deeley, declined to comment last night.

"He is in our custody," said Atlanta police spokesman John Quigley.

The two men were stabbed to death in Atlanta's Buckhead entertainment district. Witnesses said six men who had fought with them left the scene in a black Lincoln Navigator limousine leased by Lewis and that several shots were fired from inside the vehicle.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that several detectives and policemen had placed Lewis inside the vehicle as it sped away from the crime scene. Atlanta police said the limousine had Maryland license plates and was leased from All-Stretched Out Limousine Service, a Baltimore company. The owner of the company was unavailable for comment last night.

Lewis was the only person who had been charged in the slayings by late last night, police said.

The victims were identified by the Atlanta medical examiner's office as Richard Lollar, 24, and Jacinta Baker, 21, both of Decatur, Ga. Both were believed to have been partying in the area. Baker was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after the 4 a.m. fight, and Lollar died later at Grady Memorial Hospital.

According to a published report, detectives found the stretch limousine behind a Holiday Inn on Peachtree Road near Lenox Mall. Homicide detectives spent most of the day talking to the driver but would not provide details.

Police were called to the hotel after someone told them that a man with bloodstains on his clothing had gotten out of the limousine and entered a bathroom in the hotel lobby to wash, officers said.

Earlier in the day, Lewis had little to say about the incident.

"I cooperated fully," Lewis told The Sun. "As for the situation, I have no comment."

Lewis and his agent, Roosevelt Barnes, had said that the former University of Miami standout was not a suspect. "He is not involved in any aspect of this investigation as far as I know," Barnes told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Ravens owner Art Modell had said earlier in the day, "I don't believe he had anything to do with it. I'm going to give Ray the benefit of the doubt and defend him until some thing is proven otherwise."

Police believe the argument began at the Cobalt Lounge, the scene of a fatal shooting two weeks ago that left a Marietta, Ga., man dead.

Lewis had become the team's

most popular player on and off the field. But privately, team officials and teammates had become concerned about new friends he had made.

On Dec. 6, assault charges were filed against Lewis stemming from an incident in a Baltimore County bar.

According to a police report, Catrice Parker, 24, of Baltimore claimed Lewis struck her on the left side of her face and she fell into the bar at the Windsor Mill Inn in the 7200 block of Windsor Mill Road. Lewis was expected to stand trial Feb. 9 in Catonsivlle.

Ravens officials had been expected to meet with Lewis and his friends as soon as he returned from the Pro Bowl.

"The devil is busy, always after God's children. He is always trying to get you one way or another," said Lewis when asked about the incidents.

Asked whether he was concerned about his friends and his relationship with the Ravens, Lewis said, "It is something I will discuss with them but not something I can talk about now."

Lewis, 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, is considered by many to be the best middle linebacker in pro football. He has led the Ravens in tackles since joining the team as a first-round draft pick in 1996. He finished with 198 last year, which may have been his best season with the team.

On Nov. 19, 1998, Modell made Lewis the highest-paid Raven and the highest-paid linebacker with a four-year contract worth $26 million, including a $7 million signing bonus.