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Super Bowl 2013: Ray Lewis, neither sinner nor saint

Is Ray Lewis a murderer? No. But he was present when a double murder occurred. Robert Wheel looks at the 13-year-old case to assess Lewis's complicated off-field legacy.

Al Bello

You're going to hear about it on Sunday. No matter how much the Lewis-slurping press wants to ignore the issue, Ray Lewis was present at a double murder in 2000. He also committed a crime when he fled the scene with the two murder suspects. But it's a big leap from obstruction of justice to murder. So in case someone at your Super Bowl party calls Ray Lewis a murderer, here's what really happened, and what Lewis's legacy ultimately should be.

On January 31, 2000 Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar were stabbed to death outside of an Atlanta nightclub. Two men, Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley, were suspected of stabbing Baker and Lollar. Sweeting and Oakley had left the nightclub with Lewis and his friends. There is no evidence that Lewis was culpable in the actual murders, not by giving a weapon to Sweeting or Oakley, not by directing them to fight, not by escalating the altercation. There were a lot of people, some were fighting, and Lewis was by all accounts a bystander when Baker and Lollar were murdered.

But Lewis did break the law after the murders occurred. He corralled his party into his limousine and told everyone to not cooperate with the investigation because it would all come back to him. He most likely destroyed the mink coat that he was wearing when Baker and Lollar were murdered.

If Oakley and Sweeting committed the murders, Ray Lewis was a fine witness for the prosecution.

Lewis was never convicted of murder, though. In fact, nobody in the Baker-Lollar slayings was convicted of murder. This wasn't Lewis's fault. As Stephen White points out, Lewis did his best to help the prosecutors' case against Oakley and Sweeting. He testified that he saw Oakley stabbing Baker. He testified that he saw Sweeting brandishing a knife. If Oakley and Sweeting committed the murders, Ray Lewis was a fine witness for the prosecution.

Unfortunately, the prosecution did not have a good case against Oakley and Sweeting. Part of that is the nature of the crime; when you have a large group of people who have been drinking in a tussle at 3:00 a.m. relying on eyewitness testimony from a crowded drunken brawl makes it hard to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

There's also the issue of prosecutorial incompetence. Jurors said that they wanted to convict someone, but at the outset of the case prosecutor Paul Howard over-promised what he could prove. Jurors bemoaned the lack of evidence, saying that they wanted to make someone pay for the murders, but prosecutors simply couldn't come up with it. If you want to blame anyone for the lack of convictions in the Baker-Lollar murders, blame Howard, who led the prosecution of Oakley and Sweeting and, as Fulton County District Attorney, was unopposed in his last run for re-election.

All of this leaves Lewis guilty of a crime, but not an unthinkable crime. By an unthinkable crime I mean murder, rape or a vicious assault; something so depraved that the average person can't imagine himself committing it. But he's still guilty of obstruction of justice. I don't know about you, but I've been young and dumb before. If I were in a situation where someone I was with had murdered someone in front of me, I don't know how I would've reacted when I was 24. I hope I would have done the right thing, maybe I wouldn't have. Lewis's crime was a crime, but not the crime of someone with a truly depraved heart.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Lewis didn't do something wrong, nor does it mean that he shouldn't have sought public redemption. And Lewis sure as hell has sought public redemption. He's had a praying hands pose on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice. He's vocal about how he learned from his mistakes and how he's careful about who he spends time with now. By all accounts, he is an outwardly changed man.

What we don't know is whether Lewis has sought personal redemption. He's told 300 million people that he's changed, but have his private actions reflected remorse? Forgiveness and redemption are personal. Lewis reached confidential settlements in civil suits brought by Baker's and Lollar's family members, but the families' inability to forgive Lewis indicates that either the settlement did not include an apology, or that such apology was lacking.

That's the most galling part of Lewis's redemption narrative; he does not want to address Baker or Lollar head-on. He always makes the incident about him, not them. In a recent comment to the New York Post Lewis noted:

"If I had to go through all of that over again . . . I wouldn’t change a thing," he said recently. "Couldn’t. The end result is who I am now."

Ummm, really? You wouldn't have un-done an incident where two people were murdered for the sake of your own personal growth? If you look at his trial transcript 13 years later he said something similar as his group fled the scene:

For Ray Lewis, this incident hasn't ever been about anybody except for Ray Lewis. He's not a depraved murderer, but he is an egotistical jerk. He's taken responsibility for his actions publicly but seems to eschew doing so privately. I wouldn't call Lewis a fraud. I do wonder if he'll ever really come to terms with the fact that he was involved in an incident in which two people died.

For more on Ray Lewis info, head over to Baltimore Beatdown.