On THE evening of Jan. 30, 2000, Ray Lewis was looking to party. He had flown to Atlanta to watch Super Bowl XXXIV and booked himself into the luxury Georgian hotel. He’d also brought along his personal driver, Duane Fassett, to chauffeur a stretch Lincoln Navigator: 37 feet long, 14 seats, $3,000 a day.
On this night, Lewis turned himself out: white-and-black suit, full-length black mink coat and what would later be described as “enough rock to break the bank.” A few nights earlier, he had met a gorgeous woman named Jessica Robertson at a party thrown by Magic Johnson, and it was she — not Lewis’ pregnant fiancée — who was his date for the evening.
What Lewis and his crew were doing before they arrived at around 1 a.m. at the Cobalt Club, in Atlanta’s party-centric Buckhead district, remains unclear. The Cobalt had a blue neon glow and a V.V.I.P room. Baseball star David Justice had been there earlier, as had Tony Gonzalez, then of the Kansas City Chiefs, but Lewis held court on the first floor, near the door, so everyone would notice.
With him were Joseph Sweeting, a strip-club promoter who’d been friends with Lewis since college, and Reginald Oakley, who’d recently worked his way into Lewis’ circle through friends of friends. They were getting to know each other better, though; the day before, the three men had gone shopping at a Sports Authority store, where Sweeting and Oakley bought folding knives.
“Smooth” was how Lewis would later describe his mood at Cobalt; he’d had four Rémy Martin cognacs while luxuriating in the attention of half-dressed women and an ever-expanding entourage. He was 24 years old and had a four-year contract worth $26 million. He had just dropped more than $100,000 shopping, and the necklace he was wearing — a gold door-stopper studded with diamonds — was one of his recent acquisitions...................................... .....
At around 3:30 in the morning, Lewis and his crew of about 10 headed outside, where Oakley began to get aggressive with two other clubgoers — themselves part of a group of about 10. Oakley kept at it and got whacked on the side of the head with a champagne bottle. Then, Lewis would later testify, “all hell broke loose at that point. Everybody was throwing fists. Everybody was punching.”
Everyone, that is, except Ray Lewis, who testified that while all this was going on, he calmly rested against his limo, watching as his friend Sweeting was dragged and assaulted by two huge men.
“I don’t fight,” Lewis testified. “Period.”
Lewis wasn’t so calm, though, when two young men collapsed in the street, covered in blood. Lewis yelled at Robertson and his crew to get in the limo, and they scrambled and sped away as guns were fired at their tires. Minutes later, when the car came to a stop in a parking lot, Lewis took control of the situation.
“Everybody just shut the f--k up!” he yelled. “This ain’t going to come back on nobody but me.”
Meanwhile, those two young men lay dying in street: Richard Lollar, 24, and Jacinth Baker, 21. Both had records — Lollar for possession of marijuana, while Baker was wanted for violating probation on gun possession — and had recently moved to Atlanta from Akron, Ohio. Baker wanted to be an artist; Lollar, whose fiancée was pregnant, was a barber.
“These guys were slaughtered,” said Cindy Lollar-Owens, Richard’s aunt. “Like someone was getting a kick out of it.”
Lollar suffered five stab wounds: two to the heart, one to the chest and two to the abdomen. Baker, too, was stabbed directly in the heart and in the liver. Both died before they made it to the hospital. Baker’s face was beaten so badly that, he had a closed casket at his wake. Both men were buried in Akron, 24 miles from the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
After racing from the scene, Lewis’ limo didn’t return to his hotel, the Georgian, but instead to the Holiday Inn Express where Sweeting was staying. Lewis then took a cab back to the Georgian.
It didn’t take long for police to find the limo, shot through with bullet holes, blood in the interior. It sat just a mile from the crime scene, and when cops walked into the lobby, they found Lewis’ driver, Fassett, trembling and chain-smoking.
Fassett told the police he’d seen Sweeting, Oakley and Lewis all fighting and provided details that only an eyewitness could know. He said he’d heard Oakley boast, “I stabbed mine,” and Sweeting reply, “I stabbed mine, too.” When police got to Lewis’ room, they found blood there, too — but not Lewis, who had fled to his fiancée’s family home..................................