Outraged and in searing pain, relatives of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar say Lewis got away with murder. And no one cares.
By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2001
TAMPA -- There is a baby girl in Georgia without a father. There are families with still-raw wounds a year later. And there are two bodies buried in the cold Ohio ground.
This has been an extraordinary year for Ray Lewis, "like no fairy tale ever told," as he described it in his ESPN The Magazine soliloquy. From the last Super Bowl, when a night of partying led to charges in a double killing, to this one, where the celebration of his spectacular on-field performance will be consummated Sunday, it has been a remarkable journey.
But don't forget the excruciating pain of those left in his trail.
"When I read that he said it was behind him," said Cindy Lollar-Owens, aunt of one of the victims, "the only thing I could think about was the bodies he left behind him."
Specifics of the events following the Jan. 30 game remain unclear. There were investigations and a highly publicized -- and politicized -- trial, but there still is no definitive version of what happened, or how it happened, or why.
What is known is this: A brutal fight occurred outside an Atlanta nightclub. Ray Lewis was there. And Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker are dead.
"Our hearts were broken," said Vondie Boykin, one of Baker's aunts. "I really don't keep up too much with football, but when I do happen to see it come across the television, my heart just grieves. It really is true. ... The rich and famous, they get away with things. It just makes me upset. He goes on and plays football, and I know it's been a year, but it's like it was yesterday. And nobody cares, and nobody says nothing."
Lollar, 24, and Baker, 21, were childhood friends from Akron, Ohio, who had been in some legal trouble of their own and had moved to the Atlanta area seeking a better life. Lollar was a talented barber with three arrests, Baker an aspiring artist who was wanted by police for violating probation on gun and drug charges. Like thousands of others -- like Lewis and his friends -- they were out celebrating on Super Bowl Sunday.
Details are fuzzy, facts scarce. For whatever reason, their group and Lewis' clashed outside the Cobalt Lounge sometime after the 3:30 a.m. Monday closing. The violence escalated quickly. Baker -- a 5-foot-2, 135-pounder known as Shorty P -- and Lollar (6-0, 170) were brutally beaten by a half-dozen men and savagely stabbed, the knives twisted into their organs. "A thrill kill," Lollar-Owens said. Lewis and friends piled into his 40-foot chauffeured Lincoln Navigator limousine and sped off, one of the victim's friends shooting at their tires.
The 24-year-old Lewis, uncooperative in his initial interview with police, was charged with two counts of murder later Monday and arrested. After a three-state manhunt, so were two of his acquaintances, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting.
From the perspective of the victims' families, the trial of all three, which began May 23, did not go well. The prosecution did what was reported as a rushed, if not wretched, job. Halfway through, it resorted to making Lewis a deal. Murder charges were dropped after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of obstructing justice and agreed to testify against his companions, whom he did not implicate. With witnesses changing their stories, disputes over evidence and truth apparently (a rare commodity, Oakley and Sweeting were acquitted June 12.
Having sat through the trial in various degrees of outrage and disbelief, the victims' relatives went home to Akron in shock. No one was paying for the killings. No one.
Citing what they believe was solid evidence, they were convinced Lewis had some role and, perhaps equally relevant, that he knew exactly what happened. They were just as sure his celebrity, his connections and his money helped him escape with just a year's probation.
Those feelings are no less strong today.
"He ain't nothing but a liar," said Gladys Robinson, Baker's grandmother. "I wonder how he would feel if someone killed his brother or killed his son. Then he wouldn't have so much to say. But you know, one day he is going to get his, too. Because Ray Lewis was right there, and he knows what exactly went down.
"It's sad, but you try not to worry about it. God says he is the one who will bring justice to it, and I'm leaving it to God's hands. (Lewis) can say he didn't do it, that he's innocent, all he wants. As long as you know who did it, you're as guilty as they are if you don't say. He had something to do with it. I believe that in my heart."
Some relatives say Lewis should be in prison stripes rather than a Baltimore Ravens uniform. Others say jail would be too good.
"All of them should be behind bars. On death row. And they shouldn't even waste taxpayers' money feeding them," said Thomasaina Threatt, another of Lollar's aunts.
"You know what it says in the Bible about an eye for an eye? Well, if you commit a crime and you take a life away, yours should be taken away. Nobody should be walking on this earth who did that."
Lewis has spoken of the pain the episode caused him, the horror of the 15 nights he spent behind bars, the embarrassment of explaining the orange prison jumpsuit and shackles to his children, the damage to his name and reputation.
The victims' relatives would laugh at such a thought if they weren't still crying.
"I couldn't describe the pain that Ray has put on this family," Threatt said. "You have people who've wanted to commit suicide. One of (Richard's) brothers felt like he had nothing to live for because he so looked up to him. We could accept it if Richard was sick or in an accident. But for his life to be taken like that, and for no one to be in jail or serving time, it's not right."
Even now it hurts. Hurts bad. The mere mention of Lewis on television can stir rage. The slightest remembrance can unleash a flood of tears.
Threatt still can't bring herself to visit Glendale cemetery, not even to put out the flowers she bought for her nephew's birthday. "I cannot go to the grave. I can't go," Threatt said, tears flowing, her voice rising and falling. "I hate to think that that's where he is laying. ... He shouldn't be there. ... He shouldn't be there!"
As much as the aunts, the grandparents and other grown-ups are hurting, they know it is worse for the young ones.
Baker was the oldest of eight children. His parents both had died in the 13 months before his death. One of his brothers, Jermaine, had considered Ray Lewis his favorite football player. "He hates Ray Lewis now," Boykin said.
Lollar was in love for the first time and had plans, his aunts said, to marry Kellye Smith. His death was very tough on her. "She was his companion; she woke up with this man," Lollar-Owens said.
But the person they feel the most sorry for is too little to have any idea what is going on.
Less than five weeks after the killings, Smith gave birth to a baby girl.
India, the relatives say, is beautiful. As she approaches her March3 birthday, she looks more and more like her father, from her curly hair to her skin coloring to her half-closed eyes when she is sleeping.
"Spittin' image," Threatt said.
The extended Lollar family loves India, as much as a symbol of Richard's life, if anything. But sometimes it hurts to see the baby. "Because when you're looking at her," Threatt said, "you're looking at Richard, too."
Even more painful is to think India will grow up without her father. Lewis was concerned what his children thought. But who will explain to India what happened?
"Ray Lewis can look forward to raising his child," Threatt said. "Can Richard look forward to rearing his first child? No. Can he ever see what she accomplishes in her life? No. And the only thing she can look forward to are words and pictures. She will not be able to receive the love he was waiting to give her.
"It hurts. It hurts our family because there's no one serving time, because for this crime, there is no justice. It'll be like O.J. Simpson: "I'm looking for the murderers.' "
Lollar-Owens, the most vocal and high profile of the relatives, wants to come to Tampa this week.
She would like to show off the collage she carries with her as a photographic tribute to the nephew she raised like a son. She would like to meet with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and other league officials. She would like to protest their decision to allow Lewis to play this season, as she did when the Ravens played in Cleveland, handing out fliers that read: "NFL -- What about the murder of Richard Lollar and Jacinth Baker?" She would like to let people know about Richard's memorial fund (c/o FirstMerit Bank, 1525 S. Plaza Blvd., Akron, Ohio, 44320). She would like to promote the family cause, as well as the book she is writing about the case (working title: The Benefits of Murder).
"The fans want to forget about it," Lollar-Owens said. "They don't care about Richard and Jacinth. They don't know these people. The only thing they care about is they want to see these guys play. Tagliabue and them people, they don't care. As long as it's not their sons or daughters, they don't care. The NFL mothers association -- the NFL mothers! -- they don't even care."
But more than anything, Lollar-Owens would like to talk to Ray Lewis.
"I want to show him the tree," she said. "I have a picture of the tree where they pinned my nephew up. I'd want to ask him if he remembered it. That would be the main thing."
For some relatives, there still is too much anger to have that conversation.
"I couldn't talk to Ray Lewis 'cause I'd probably lose my religion. And he ain't worth it," Robinson said.
"All I've got to say to Ray Lewis is that he's got a payday coming. And it won't be no greenbacks."
Baker and Lollar are gone, but their relatives refuse to allow them to be forgotten.
Lollar-Owens said she plans to pursue a wrongful death civil lawsuit against Lewis, who is playing under a four-year, $26-million contract. She makes the somewhat specious argument that because the NFL fined Lewis a record $250,000 (for conduct detrimental to the league) he obviously did something wrong. "They opened the door for us," she said.
The family members have agreed to an ever-increasing number of interviews -- and the pain that comes with them -- to ensure the public remembers who the real victims were and to spread their belief that Lewis, who went to school in Lakeland and Miami, should be punished for his involvement.
Lollar-Owens hopes to raise enough money to get the message on billboards. She would likesome of them to be in Akron, in Atlanta, in Florida. And, of course, in Baltimore. "I'm going to make sure he doesn't forget," Lollar-Owens said. "And he's going to make sure I don't forget because he's out of jail."
A small, basic headstone marks Lollar's grave, nothing like the family envisions -- something that would reflect his creativity with his barber's razor.
Baker's grave site is bare. Because his father had a fatal heart attack in December 1998 (reportedly from a drug overdose) and his mother died from a brain tumor two months later, relatives had to borrow money for Baker's funeral, as well as nice clothes to bury him in.
Lewis wrote that he pours his heart out to the families, but they're still waiting to see it. They say they have never heard from Lewis, never gotten an apology or condolences. Baker's grandmother suggested Lewis make an anonymous donation to provide a proper memorial for the slain men, but with the possibility of pending legal action, that seems unlikely.
Lewis, sure to be the focus of today's Super Bowl media day, says he has put what happened behind him. "Closed chapter," he said.
The victims' relatives have a different view. They speculate whether Lewis' family and friends believe in his innocence. ("They have to wonder, "Did he do it?' " Threatt said.) They wonder what Lewis truly thinks. And they ask if there ever will be justice.
"I think it's a shame that (Ravens owner) Art Modell and the NFL stand behind this man," Threatt said. "It's a disgrace, not only to us, but to anybody who has to sit and watch him play.
"He doesn't even care. As far as he's concerned, he's not even guilty. But I figure somewhere deep down inside he has to think about what he's done to these boys and their families."
"It's got to be on his mind," Lollar-Owens said. "He can't help but see it. It's called a conscience."
- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.