Nearly 13 year later, some people are still trolling Ray Lewis for a crime he never committed.
Does Lewis deserve criticism?
Those conflicting perceptions butted heads once again this past weekend as the media spotlighted Lewis after he announced his retirement and played his final game at M&T Bank Stadium.
Much of the buzz out of his critics' corner was stirred up by Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel. His column, headlined, “As we celebrate Ray Lewis, don't forget murder victims,” sought the truth surrounding Lewis’ infamous double-murder trial, hypocritically, by twisting the truth—an art the anti-Lewis team has become accustomed to this past decade.
Prior to presenting any actual facts about the deaths of Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker, which led to the indictment of Lewis, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting, Bianchi referenced a quote from Lollar’s grandmother, Joyce. She called Lewis and his crew a “gang of hoodlums” and claimed her grandson was murdered in a “thrill-killing.”
Before you ingest those comments, feel free to read the Associated Press’ report from 13 years ago on who ignited the brawl (via St. Petersburg Times): “Evidence showed Baker started the brawl by hitting Oakley in the head with a champagne bottle.”
Evidence—something the anti-Lewis team seems to always forget to include in its argument—suggests that, if anything, Lollar and Baker’s group was the real “gang of hoodlums.” According to the official CNN.com transcripts of the trial in which Lewis took the stand for the prosecution, Lollar and Baker were literally in a gang.
Bianchi went on to ask a series of questions surely intended to make his readers question Lewis’ innocence (all quotes via Orlando Sentinel unless stated otherwise).
“Why, when Lewis made an appearance at a sporting goods store the day before the Super Bowl, did his friends buy knives at the store?”
Bianchi tried to connect dots that weren't there to begin with. One can't assume Lewis and his crew bought knifes to start trouble, especially when evidence tells the story of Lollar and Baker's bunch being the provocateurs.
The world will never know the intent behind the purchased knives, but a means of self defense certainly isn't out of the question.
According to Ellen Barry of the Los Angeles Times, Atlanta, where the tragedy went down, had the highest violent-crime rate in the country in 2000. It wouldn't have been wise for Lewis and company to attend a nightclub decked out in mink coats and diamonds in the most dangerous city in the United States without protection.
“Why did witnesses say the limo pulled over and someone dumped bloody clothes into a trash bin? Why was the white suit Ray Lewis wore that night never found?”
Sure, those questions are enough to fuel conspiracy theorists' gut feelings that Lewis participated in a cover up. But there's a reason they weren't valuable enough at the time of the trial to sway the jury—they're nothing but circumstantial.
Why did the limo driver change his story mid-trial after originally testifying that Lewis told everyone to "just keep your mouth shut and don't say nothing"? Originally, the driver told police he saw Lewis actively taking part in the bloody brawl and heard Oakley and Sweeting admit to stabbing someone. But he backed off those statements when he got on the witness stand.
"Actively taking part," is not consistent with what Jon Morgan of the Baltimore Sun reported that May.
Duane Fassett, the limo driver, at the very most said Lewis had landed a punch without knife in hand. Jon Morgan and Marego Athans' report weeks later revealed that Fasset's mid-trial story change was simply clarifying that he didn't know if Lewis had connected on the punch. That alteration actually correlated more accurately with other testimonies that claimed Lewis was the "peace maker."
Why did prosecutors reduce the murder charge against Lewis to misdemeanor obstruction of justice? It was a plea deal in which Lewis agreed to testify against his two friends, Oakley and Sweeting, who were later acquitted after Lewis' testimony failed to implicate them in the murders.
I’ll allow Irwin R. Kramer, a defense attorney who followed the trial, to throw the alley-oop to Lewis’ lawyer Don Samuel for the answer.
Kramer said, according to Sports Illustrated, "It seems like the prosecution is starting to run out of gas, and it doesn't seem like they had much in the tank in the first place.”
And why might that be, Mr. Samuel?
Because, as he said via Sports Illustrated, “There's no evidence of guilt here.”
No witnesses, either. Well, at least credible ones.
According Athans, only Chester Anderson, “a convicted con artist,” testified that Lewis had attacked anyone.
After all, it’s a free country. But freedom of speech also allows one to expose just how far from the truth a person's beliefs are.
Now, Bianchi never flat out called Lewis a murderer. But sensationalized editorials like his aid in the miseducation of the general public. People unread on the facts of the trial still refer to Lewis as a murderer, despite the reality that no one—besides our conniving friend Chester—even claimed Lewis was an aggressor.
And with Lewis clearly innocent of murder and nothing but circumstantial evidence connecting him to a cover up, allow me to transition using everybody’s favorite talking head, Skip Bayless.
I'll remember Ray Lewis as a man who completely transformed his life after beating murder charge. Became role model, ambassador, pitch man.— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) January 3, 2013
For critics, those words sting.
Through the Ray Lewis 52 Foundation and other philanthropy outlets, Lewis has changed more lives in a positive manner post-murder-charge than the vast majority of those still crying to crucify him ever have or will.
Here’s his inspirational life story presented by E-60. Lewis has made it his mission to mentor young kids and protect them from the nightmare that was the fatherless childhood he grew up in.
Why attempt to tarnish Lewis’ character without reputable evidence to back that bitterness?
Where do critics believe Lewis deserves to be right now? Behind bars?
Fine. If wasting precious time and energy longing for a man to suffer while that same man continues to transform society in a positive manner is how his critics choose to live, then again, it's a free country.
Maybe 13 more years from now it’ll start to click that Lewis' story isn't about a professional athlete getting away with murder because he's a celebrity.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.