Jurors shown autopsy photos


ATLANTA - A medical examiner testified yesterday that two men killed in a post-Super Bowl street fight here died within minutes of being stabbed in the heart, but said the injuries were probably not caused by a knife found at the scene.

Fulton County medical examiner and forensic pathologist John Parker, testifying on the day after football star Ray Lewis officially left the case, showed jurors grisly photographs taken during his autopsies.

He said Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, both of Decatur, Ga., suffered a number of stabs and cuts in a brawl, which broke out at about 4 a.m. on Jan. 31.

Relatives of the victims bolted from the courtroom in tears at one point during Parker's testimony.

Until Monday, Lewis, a Ravens linebacker, had been charged with assault and murder in the case. Those charges were dropped by Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard in exchange for Lewis pleading guilty to obstructing justice. Lewis testified for the prosecution on Tuesday.

The remaining defendants, Reginald Oakley, 31, of Baltimore, and Joseph Sweeting, 34, of Miami, are still on trial before the jury that has been hearing the joint case for three weeks. They are charged with aggravated assault and murder.

Prosecutors said they expected to finish their case this morning, at which time the defense is expected to ask Fulton County Superior Court Judge Alice D. Bonner to throw out the charges on a "directed verdict." Such requests are made in most criminal trials and are rarely granted.

If the judge rejects the request, lawyers for the defendants will call witnesses, a process they estimate will take a half day. Closing arguments could be made tomorrow and the case sent to the jury.

Besides Parker, witnesses yesterday included a technician who detailed the "trail of blood" that Howard promised jurors at the outset of the trial. He matched samples of blood from the victims and defendants, explaining where traces were found at the crime scene, in Lewis' rented limousine, and at two hotels.

The smell of dried blood became so pungent in the courtroom that security officers sprayed the room with air freshener several times.

Yesterday, Parker said Lollar had three wounds to the chest and abdomen and two to his left side. The fatal injuries were two stabs to the same spot, in which a knife or knife-like device was jabbed into the center of his chest, cutting into the heart. Lollar died within 45 to 90 seconds, he said. That fact, and the heavy clothing Lollar was wearing that night, means the killer may have escaped without getting much blood on his or her own body, Parker said.

Blood matching Baker - but not Lollar- was found in Lewis' rented limousine in which Oakley and Sweeting rode as well as in a number of other places they visited afterward.

In a setback for prosecutors, Parker said it is possible but "very unlikely" that Lollar managed to stumble 30 yards after being stabbed before dropping to the ground, as prosecutors allege.

"He could have spoken and communicated and acted purposefully for a period of time. There was still air in his lungs and adrenaline in his brain," Parker said.

Baker died of a similar stab wound to the left side of his chest, which also pierced his heart, and one to his liver, Parker said. He may have lived a minute or two longer than Lollar, but emergency medical technicians who rushed him to a hospital were probably mistaken when they thought they detected a slight pulse, he said.

Unlike bullets, which leave telltale evidence, knives create injuries that reveal little about theweapon, he said. The weapons that killed Lollar and Baker were probably knives with a sharp blade on one side and a smooth edge on the other, he said. There were indications that the weapon used to kill Lollar had serrations on the blade, he said.

"The wounds could have all been made by the same instrument, or by different ones," Parker said.

Previous witnesses have said Sweeting purchased three knives two days before the killings at a sporting goods store while Lewis was signing autographs there.

A knife matching the model number of one of those purchased was found on the sidewalk near the bodies. Parker said the device, a folding knife with a two-inch-long blade, could have created the wounds, even the four-inch deep ones, if pushed into the body. But that is unlikely, he said.

The weapon found at the scene had no blood or identifiable fingerprints. Another type of knife purchased by Sweeting could have created the wounds, Parker testified. No knife matching that description has been recovered.

Baker also had abrasions on his face, which could have been caused by the broken glass found in the street near the body, Parker said. Prosecutors allege Baker hit Oakley over the head with a bottle at the beginning of the fight and that Oakley responded by beating and stabbing the man.

But Oakley's attorneys say the bottle didn't break when their client was hit and that another man who has never been arrested picked it up and broke it over Baker. Parker was not asked for an opinion on that theory.

Parker displayed the clothing worn by the victims, including a cream-colored "Cleveland" sweater and black leather pants worn by Lollar.

"That was his favorite outfit," his cousin, Charita Hale, said during a break in the trial. Lollar can be seen wearing those clothes in a photograph on his business card from the Decatur Barber and Braid Shop. Hale, who has maintained a vigil behind the prosecution's table throughout the trial, said yesterday was one of the most difficult. Photos displayed in court included close-ups of the dead men's faces, and of their injuries.

"It's horrible to see all that blood on their clothes," Hale said. "He died miserably. Who would want to die on the street?"

The case lost much of its energy yesterday with the absence of Lewis. The crowd was a fraction of the size it had been when the NFL player was there.

Court TV has continued to televise the trial, but ESPN has ended its special coverage. "ESPN for all intents and purposes is out of the trial," said network spokesman Mac Nwulu.

Howard, who is heading the prosecution team, lamented the lack of interest now that the celebrity defendant is no longer present.

"Two dead guys, two people on trial, and as soon as Ray Lewis goes, that's it. That's the national mood. We have become so selfish. Two dead and it doesn't matter," Howard said.

Sun national correspondent Marego Athans contributed to this article.

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