Lewis' lawyer seeks release; There's no evidence star linebacker had a knife, attorney says Police 'made a mistake' Authorities continue hunt for companions of Ravens player

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ATLANTA -- Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, jailed on murder charges in the stabbing deaths of two men, did not have a knife and was unaware that members of his entourage were involved in a dispute that ended in the slayings, his lawyer said yesterday.

Edward T. M. Garland, a prominent Atlanta attorney, said police rushed to arrest his client despite having no evidence linking him to the fatal stabbings that occurred Monday after the player and a group of eight left a Super Bowl party in a bar in the trendy Buckhead neighborhood that was crowded with football revelers.

The 24-year-old multimillionaire player added Garland to his defense team Wednesday.

Garland, a partner in a high-profile law firm, quickly took the case to the media and held a news conference that was broadcast live on CNN. He said Lewis knows "some nicknames" of those who might be directly involved in the stabbings and will provide them to homicide detectives.

"He did not have a knife," Garland told a crowd of reporters at his office, a short distance from where the two men were stabbed hours after the National Football League's championship game at the Georgia Dome at the opposite end of the city.

"He did not use a knife," the attorney said. "He did not engage in a fight. He did not promote a fight. He is a peacemaker off of the football field. Sometimes overaggressive and overzealous police round up and charge everybody. We believe they made a mistake."

Atlanta police said they have solid reasons to charge Lewis and noted that a judge authorized an arrest warrant.

"A judge determined that there was probable cause that Mr. Lewis was involved in this crime in a significant way," said John Quigley, a police spokesman.

Garland is eager to get his client released from the Atlanta City Jail, where he is being held without bail, and is trying to move up a bail hearing scheduled Feb. 14.

The attorney said he has spoken to Lewis in his cell and described his client -- the league's highest-paid linebacker, earning $26 million over a four-year contract -- as eager to address the public when the investigation has concluded.

He characterized Lewis as a "horrified bystander" to a tragedy.

To Baltimore fans, he said Lewis "wants you to know that your faith in him is justified. He is absolutely, totally and completely innocent of any wrongdoing."

Police said yesterday that their investigation continues into the deaths of Jacinth Demarus Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24. The two friends were visiting the Buckhead neighborhood of restaurants, taverns and coffeehouses when they became embroiled in a dispute with people in Lewis' group.

A police affidavit supporting the warrant for Lewis' arrest alleges that he participated in beating and stabbing the men. Police cite information from an unidentified witness who apparently has known Lewis for a year.

Officials declined to release a copy of the warrant yesterday.

The medical examiner has raised doubts about whether the men were beaten before they were stabbed, saying they were killed with concentrated blows to precise areas of their torsos and that there was little evidence of a fight.

Police said officers recovered a handgun near the scene but that they have not linked it to bullets fired at Lewis' rented limousine as it sped away.

The medical examiner's office has said police found three knives in Lewis' limo but have not been able to determine whether they were used in the killings.

Quigley also confirmed that investigators want to talk to Kwame King and someone named A.J. Johnson in connection with the killings, because they believe both men were in Lewis' limo the morning of the slayings.

"We want to hear what they have to tell us," Quigley said, stressing that neither is considered a suspect.

King grew up in Lewis' hometown of Lakeland, Fla. Family members have denied that King was involved.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution identified A.J. Johnson as a former University of Maryland football player who tried out for the Miami Dolphins. Johnson, who is enrolled at the University of Maryland, denied being in Atlanta. He and his girlfriend say he was at a Super Bowl party at her home in Laurel. Johnson said it could be a case of mistaken identity.

Police have not publicly named any suspects other than Lewis.

Garland called the affidavit flawed and said his investigative team has identified at least three people who saw the stabbing and would testify that Lewis had nothing to do with the crime or any dispute that led to the incident.

The affidavit is full of "inaccuracies, assumptions and exaggerations," Garland told reporters.

The driver of Lewis' black stretch limousine, Duanne Fassett of Maryland, apparently has told investigators that he saw the stabbing and that Lewis was not involved. The driver's lawyer, Dave Irwin, said yesterday that neither he nor Fassett would comment on what his client told authorities.

"He's still upset," Irwin said. "He's been friendly with Ray. He thinks Ray is a terrific guy. He has nothing against Ray Lewis. He is upset this happened."

Yesterday's news conference was the first time that Lewis' defense team has talked at length about the case. Garland was joined by Lewis' agent, Roosevelt Barnes, and Baltimore lawyer Ronald M. Cherry.

Garland is a native Atlantan and well-known in Georgia for representing clients in several high-profile cases, including a 15-year-old boy who shot six classmates at his Georgia high school last May.

The lawyers would not detail Lewis' whereabouts before he entered the Cobalt Lounge or events inside the club, which was holding a star-studded affair with a $100 cover charge. A woman has told an Atlanta television station that a scuffle prompted bouncers to close the upstairs VIP section. The owners say no fight broke out.

Garland said Lewis left the bar in a happy, upbeat mood and was walking down the street toward his limo when the "sudden confrontation" occurred, apparently involving the victims and people who were trailing Lewis.

It remains unclear what prompted the dispute or how the groups -- one led by a wealthy pro football player, the other including a budding artist and a hairstylist out foor an evening of fun -- collided in such a violent way.

Garland said Lewis learned of the deaths of the two men later that morning from news reports. He would not say whether Lewis realizes now that the alleged killer or killers might have been in the limousine with him as the vehicle sped away.

Garland said whatever altercation took place -- including somebody getting hit over the head with a champagne bottle -- did not involve Lewis. He said there were eight people clustered around Lewis as he walked down the street. Garland described some of them as hangers-on and others as Lewis' friends.

It also is unclear whether Lewis was inside the limo when the stabbing occurred. Garland said the player remembers being whisked away from the scene as several shots rang out and slammed into the side of the limo.

The limousine, with several people including Lewis inside, sped down the street and parked at a Holiday Inn to fix a tire flattened by a bullet. The group scattered from there -- one person apparently disappearing into a hotel bathroom with a bloody shirt and Lewis hopping into a cab back to his hotel, the historic Georgian Terrace.

Learning that police wanted to question him, Lewis called authorities, who picked him up at a friend's house in an Atlanta suburb, the lawyer said.

Lewis wanted to talk right away because he planned to fly to Hawaii to participate in Sunday's Pro Bowl, a postseason showcase of the NFL's best talent. Garland said police surprised Lewis by placing him under arrest.

The lawyer said he believes police got nervous because Lewis was poised to leave the state and rushed to charge him without much evidence.

"Though, according to reports, Mr. Lewis was at the scene of the homicide, no witness has alleged that he personally was involved in the actual homicide, encouraged its commission or conspired with others to have the crime committed," his motion for bond states.

Under Georgia law, Lewis can be held accountable for the deaths even if he did not commit the stabbings, if the state can prove he participated in a fight or in any other way that led to the incident.

A team of private investigators working on Lewis' behalf are trying to piece together what happened in the bar and on the street Sunday night and early Monday. Garland promised a full and detailed accounting when his investigation is complete.

A spokesman for the district attorney's office did not return calls yesterday.

Garland acknowledged that it is unusual for a murder suspect to be released on bail pending trial, but he said the lack of evidence, coupled with Lewis' high-profile stature, makes such an exception possible.

In Lewis' request for a bail hearing, his lawyers portrayed him as a family man. They said he supports the two children of his fiancee, Tatyana McCall, and lives with them in Florida. They also said he has supported and raised three teen-age siblings, and noted that his mother moved to the Baltimore area to be near him.

In Baltimore, there was visible evidence of support for Lewis.

At Mother's Federal Hill Grille last night, a bartender and several patrons wore T-shirts bearing the words -- in Ravens purple -- "Free Ray Lewis." Bartender Don Park said a friend of the bar's staff, Bill Leahy of Annapolis, came in with the T-shirts and quickly found people willing to buy them for $10.

Sun staff writers Caitlin Francke, Jamison Hensley and Del Quentin Wilber contributed to this article.

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