Lewis charges dropped after plea bargain

NFL star Ray Lewis pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count today under an agreement that drops murder charges in the stabbing deaths of two man outside a Super Bowl party.

Lewis entered the plea before Judge Alice Bonner, who agreed to the deal struck Sunday by prosecutors and Lewis's lawyers.

The obstruction of justice charge carries a maximum sentence of 12 months probation with first offender status.

"It's a good day for Ray," defence lawyer Don Samuel said he entered the courthouse.

The Baltimore Ravens linebacker walked in a few minutes later, tossing the yellow tennis ball he has clutched throughout the first two weeks of testimony in his murder trial.

The misdemeanor charge -- obstruction of justice -- carries a maximum sentence of 12 months probation with first offender status.

Lewis and two friends, Joseph Sweeting and Reginald Oakley, were charged with murder, felony murder and aggravated assault in the stabbing deaths of two men after a Super Bowl party in Atlanta in January.

Samuel said Lewis will testify against his co-defendants as part of the deal, which also calls for aggravated assault charges against the linebacker to be dropped.

But the lawyer said Lewis's testimony won't be "devastating" to Sweeting and Oakley.

He said Lewis never saw a knife during the fight.

Samuel said prosecutor Paul Howard told him that Lewis would be the next witness to testify, but it was unclear whether he would take the stand today or Tuesday.

Howard said last week that he planned to wrap up his case by Tuesday.

Steven Sadow, who represents Sweeting, said he remains confident despite the deal with Lewis.

"No matter what Ray Lewis says, the jury will not find Joseph guilty," Sadow said as he entered court today. "It might have an effect on our overall strategy, but then again we have to hear what Ray says."

Prosecutors have presented little proof that Lewis assaulted anyone during the Jan. 31 street fight that left two men dead.

Without much direct evidence linking Lewis to the stabbings of Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker, prosecutors tried last week to convince the jury that Lewis participated in a conspiracy to cover up the crime.

Lewis's lawyers admit he gave a misleading statement to police on the morning after the killings.

But there has been other testimony that suggests Lewis participated in some kind of coverup:

  • Duane Fassett, the driver of Lewis's rented limousine, reluctantly admitted on the stand that after the brawl Lewis told everyone in the car to "just keep your mouth shut and don't say nothing."
  • Evelyn Sparks, who was riding in the limousine, said she saw another passenger dump a white hotel laundry bag into a garbage bin outside a fast food restaurant. Prosecutors say the bag contained Lewis's bloodstained white suit, which has never been found.
  • Sparks said a photograph of Lewis's entourage, taken at the Cobalt Lounge on the night of the killings, was destroyed by Jessica Robertson, a woman described as Lewis's girlfriend.

    "She said she burned it," Sparks testified.