Lewis posts bail, is free to go home; Bond is $1 million; 'The next step is to get him acquitted'; Oakley turns himself in; Charged with murder, he's expected to return to Baltimore soon

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ATLANTA -- Ray Lewis walked out of jail into the sunshine yesterday after posting a $1 million bond that frees the Ravens linebacker until his murder trial and allows him to return home to Maryland.

The star player remained silent as he fought through the media throng outside the Fulton County Jail at 12: 55 p.m. and climbed into the front seat of a blue-green BMW. He put his youngest son, Rayshod, 2, on his lap, and let his lawyer do the talking.

"This is step one in the process," said the attorney, Edward T. M. Garland. "We got him released. The next step is to get him acquitted. I don't expect him to set foot in a jail again unless it is for charitable work."

Lewis was scheduled to return to Baltimore today or tomorrow after spending time in Atlanta with family members. They had converged here from Maryland, Florida and elsewhere for the past 15 days but had been able to see the 24-year-old only through a glass partition during visiting hours.

Lewis had been jailed since he was arrested Jan. 31, hours before he was to leave for Hawaii for what would have been his third consecutive Pro Bowl appearance.

He was indicted on murder and assault charges along with two acquaintances in the deaths of Richard Lollar, 24, and Jacinth Baker, 21, who were stabbed during a fight early that morning after a Super Bowl party in the Buckhead neighborhood.

About 90 minutes before Lewis walked out of jail, co-defendant Reginald Oakley of Baltimore surrendered and was escorted inside by his lawyer. The 31-year-old had been sought as a federal fugitive since being charged Thursday.

A third suspect, Joseph L. Sweeting, 34, of Miami, surrendered Monday. Federal authorities confirmed yesterday that Sweeting is the subject of a drug investigation.

"Presently he is the subject of a narcotics case," said Terry Nelson, a special agent for the FBI in Miami. Nelson couldn't provide further details. Brent Eaton, a spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration in Miami, confirmed that his agency was involved in the search for the fugitive until Sweeting turned himself in to Atlanta police.

Lewis was granted bail Monday after a daylong hearing in which prosecutors argued that he should be held until trial because he obstructed justice and his lawyers countered that the police case was so weak it would be unjust to hold him.

Superior Court Judge Doris L. Downs ruled that Lewis' ties to Baltimore, his family and his career made him a low flight risk.

The intense media interest -- the seven-hour bail hearing Monday was broadcast live here and in Baltimore -- peaked yesterday as cameramen and reporters jostled for the best shot of Lewis emerging from confinement.

'We have a sighting'

While lawyers completed paperwork inside, sheriff deputies taped mug shots of the three suspects to a glass window outside the reception area. "We have a sighting," a cameraman shouted as Lewis could be seen in a processing room.

"Is he walking?" another asked. "Not yet," came the answer.

Finally, Lewis walked out wearing a sports jersey with "supreme" on the back. He was surrounded by six sheriff's deputies.

Garland was driving the BMW that took Lewis from the jail, accompanied by his co-counsel, Jana Lauren Harris. In the back seat were Lewis' mother, Sunseria Keith; his fiance, Tatyana McCall; and their two children, Rayshod and Ray Jr., 4.

A Chevrolet minivan with Florida license plates followed with other relatives, including his grandparents, uncles and aunts. They carried home a clear plastic bag containing some of Lewis' clothes and personal items.

Wave to the press

Lewis rode with Garland to his law offices in Buckhead. The defense attorney waved through an open sun roof to television news crews who followed the car in a helicopter.

Garland said Lewis might talk soon; a news conference is scheduled in Baltimore tomorrow, but it is unclear whether the player will make a public statement.

"He thanks God to be out," Garland said. "He has huge sympathy for the victims, and he looks forward to clearing his name."

Attorneys bailed out their client by handing a court clerk a cashier's check for $220,000. Nine bail bond companies -- including one called Free At Last -- divided the remaining $880,300, which is backed by collateral.

So many were needed because each company has a $100,000 maximum and a defendant rarely posts $1 million in bail.

The total bond including administrative fees and the $80,000 charged by the bail companies to administer the account came to $1,100,300.

Downs imposed strict conditions on Lewis' release, restricting his travel, forbidding him to drink alcohol and subjecting him to a 9 p.m. curfew.

How the curfew will be enforced was unclear. Sgt. Clarence Huber, a spokesman for the Fulton County sheriff's department, said it might require help from Maryland authorities, but arrangements had not been worked out yesterday.

Gag order imposed

Downs also put gag orders on Lewis and other participants in the case, forbidding them from discussing any details. The order remains in effect unless lifted by the trial judge, who will be selected randomly by computer.

The new judge will be named today to oversee the case to its conclusion.

Under Georgia law, Lewis, Oakley and Sweeting will be tried together unless prosecutors decide to seek the death penalty. If the defendants do not waive the right to a speedy trial, arguments before a jury could be under way as early as April. Many lawyers, however, have indicated that a trial could be six months to a year away.

Oakley and Sweeting are being held without bail.

Their lawyers said yesterday that a bond hearing might be scheduled in the near future. But each noted that their clients are not as wealthy as Lewis, professional football's highest paid linebacker, for whom Ravens owner Art Modell was a character witness at his bond hearing.

'He's feeling great'

"He's feeling great," said Oakley's lawyer, Bruce Harvey, "and he is ready to answer the charges in the indictment.

"This is not a celebrity who can have the owner of a professional football team talk about a $27 million contract," Harvey said, referring to Lewis' four-year contract, which is actually for $26 million.

Oakley is a felon with ties to North Carolina. He apparently met Lewis through mutual friends in Baltimore. Harvey, citing a gag order imposed by the judge Monday, declined to comment on specifics of the case.

His client surrendered about 12: 25 p.m. Oakley walked into the jail wearing a black leather jacket and a baseball cap pushed down over his eyes. Harvey kept his left hand on his shoulder as they pushed through reporters.

"He can't say anything," Harvey said. "He's here. He's turned himself in. Anything we have to say, we will say in court. He had nothing to do with the stabbings."

A few hours later, Sweeting's lawyer, Steve Sadow, walked out of the jail after having met with his client, also a felon whose record includes convictions for drug activities and a shooting in the Miami area. He was with Lewis during the trip to Atlanta.

"My client will be pleading not guilty," said Sadow, a prominent lawyer who represented an upscale Atlanta strip club linked to organized crime. "This is going to be an interesting case, and I'm looking forward to a jury ringing out not guilty for all three defendants."

Police have not alleged that Lewis used a knife, but they charge that he was an "active participant" in the deadly fight.

Authorities maintain that Oakley and Sweeting -- whom they call close friends of Lewis -- fled with the player in his rented limousine after the incident that left two men dead and that Lewis lied to police to cover up their involvement.

Defense lawyers say Lewis' only involvement was his attempts to break up the fight and that he was about 100 feet away when the stabbings occurred. They also say he didn't know anyone had been stabbed until hours later when he heard it on the news.

Lewis will be allowed to prepare for his trial at home. His release agreement permits him to travel only to Georgia for court matters and to meet with lawyers.

Sun staff reporter Jon Morgan contributed to this article.

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