- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2000

Linebacker Ray Lewis' arrest on murder charges jolted the Baltimore Ravens yesterday, leaving teammates stunned and wondering if it could possibly be a mistake.
Lewis was charged Monday in the deaths of two men early that morning outside a club in the trendy Buckhead section of Atlanta. Two men, identified as Jacinth Baker, 21, and Richard Lollar, 24, were stabbed to death. Lewis, 24, was the only suspect identified by police.
Lewis has been the Ravens' best player and perhaps the best middle linebacker in the NFL. He was regarded as a "great dude" by teammates who now wonder if he possibly could have committed the crime with which he has been charged despite several episodes of violence in recent years.
"My first thought was shock and disbelief," offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said in Honolulu. "I'm still not going to believe it until someone tells me, 'Yeah, I was there, and I saw it.' It just doesn't seem to fit his profile."
Linebacker Peter Boulware agreed.
"I think it's more of a mix-up than anything else," he said. "I've been thinking about it all day. That's the way it is. You got a close friend that's involved in some trouble. You're going to worry about him and want the best for him."
Said safety Rod Woodson: "That's my man. I hope it ain't true. That's all I can say."
This is the second time Lewis has been charged with a violent crime in two months. Lewis was accused of punching a woman in a Baltimore bar Nov. 30 and charged with second-degree assault. His trial was set for Feb. 9, but Baltimore County Deputy State's Attorney Howard Merker already had asked for a continuance.
In 1994, a girlfriend pregnant with Lewis' child told police he pushed her, struck her in the face and put his hands around her neck during an argument. The woman gave birth to a healthy baby and declined to press charges.
One year later, another girlfriend, also pregnant with Lewis' child, said he grabbed her shoulder during an argument, shook her and scratched her arm. The woman, Kimberly Arnold, complained that police tried to protect Lewis, who was never charged.
Ravens coach Brian Billick declined comment.
The team offered only an official statement of hope for Lewis' innocence.
"We have not had the opportunity to speak to Ray Lewis about this matter, and we can only hope that the charges against Ray are false," said Kevin Byrne, Ravens vice president for public relations in a statement yesterday. "We recognize that this is a very difficult situation, and we are concerned for everyone involved. We respect the investigative and judicial processes that are taking place. We are monitoring all of this as best as we can. This is a very serious matter to the Baltimore Ravens. Two young men died in Atlanta, and we offer our sympathies to their families and friends."
Lewis was reared in a single-parent household with a brother and three sisters in housing projects in Lakeland, Fla. Lewis' father left the family when Ray Lewis was very young, and he helped raise his younger siblings. When Lewis was voted to his first of three Pro Bowls in 1997, he tried and failed to reconcile his differences with his estranged father, offering him $5,000.
Lewis starred at the University of Miami, where in 1996 he lost close friend Marlin Barnes. Barnes, a former Hurricanes linebacker, and his girlfriend, were beaten to death in an off-campus apartment.
Lewis was so distraught at Barnes' funeral that he refused to enter the church, instead pacing around the building. Lewis called his slain friend "my motivation" and still wears T-shirts with Barnes' picture underneath his jersey.
The Ravens made Lewis, then 23, the richest linebacker in the league when they chose him in the 1996 draft, giving him a four-year, $26 million contract with a $7 million signing bonus.
This season, Lewis was the best player on the league's second-ranked defense. He has led the team in tackles in each of his four seasons and led the NFL in that category this year.
Lewis becomes the second NFL player charged with murder in the past two months. Rae Carruth, former Carolina Panthers wide receiver, was charged in connection with the murder of his pregnant girlfriend Cherica Adams.
Before his arrest, Lewis told the (Baltimore) Sun he was questioned by police and cleared of any wrongdoing.
Witnesses at the scene said six men fought and argued with the two victims before fleeing in a black stretch Lincoln Navigator limousine leased by Lewis. Shots reportedly were fired from the limousine with Maryland plates as it sped off.
Lewis' attorney, Max Richardson Jr., said Lewis is innocent and is being charged because he will not cooperate with police in giving information they seek with regard to the murders.
"We're taking the position that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Richardson said outside the courtroom. "From what I've gathered from law enforcement officers, they know Ray didn't kill these unfortunate victims."

This article is based in part on wire reports.

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