Opinion: Columnists

Gregory Kane: Ray Lewis, LB, quits; Paul Howard, DA, blunders on

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Opinion,Gregory Kane,Columnists

If it hadn't been for an upset in the National Football League divisional playoffs, I'd have never known Paul Howard was still the district attorney of Fulton County, Ga.

The Baltimore Ravens did indeed boot the heavily favored Denver Broncos from the playoffs last weekend. (Believe me, no one is more surprised by this than the Ravens.)

One day later, USA Today ran a story with the headline "Ray Lewis' career marches on after upset."

For the past 17 seasons, Lewis has been the Ravens' middle linebacker. He's had nearly a perennial All Pro career, one that almost got derailed in 2000, when Howard charged him and two other men -- Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting -- with murder.

About 4 a.m. on Jan. 31, 2000, Lewis and some of his friends were riding around Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood in a limousine. A perfectly asinine quarrel with another group led to a full-blown fist and knife fight.

When it was over, two men from the other group -- Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar -- lay dead on the ground, fatally stabbed.

Howard dropped murder charges against Lewis, and Oakley and Sweeting were acquitted. But there are those who won't let go of what happened in Atlanta 13 years past. That's why there was a link to the USA Today story with this headline:

"Slayings not forgotten, Ray Lewis not forgiven."

USA Today sports reporter Brent Schrotenboer wrote the story, telling of the grief that surviving family members of Baker and Lollar feel to this day.

I attended a couple of days of the Lewis trial in 2000, and, based on what I heard from prosecution witnesses, not defense witnesses, I'm convinced that Lewis did nothing he needs to be forgiven for, except perhaps obstruction of justice.

What struck me most about the trial was the incompetence of Howard's assistant district attorneys.

One prosecution witness, Jeff Gwen, testified that he saw Lewis "tussling" with Lollar. In a previous statement to prosecutors, Gwen had said he saw Lewis throw a punch.

Later, Gwen decided that, no, he didn't see Lewis throw a punch after all. His contradictory statement was not turned over to defense attorneys, who discovered it during the trial. This, readers, is known as a Brady violation. It simply means prosecutors failed to turn over exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys.

But here's how incompetent the prosecutors were in the Lewis trial: The judge nailed them for not one Brady violation, but two. And I was in the courtroom when the judge chided an assistant district attorney for not knowing the proper procedure for conducting a redirect cross-examination.

Two Brady violations in one trial? An assistant district attorney who didn't know how to conduct a redirect cross-examination? Three men charged with murder and prosecution witnesses who didn't identify any of them as having committed murder -- and in fact sounded more like witnesses for the defense?

If two men weren't dead, this would be called a comedy of errors. And overseeing it all was Howard.

In Schrotenboer's story last weekend, he wrote that Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard would have no comment. Now just how did Howard get re-elected Fulton County district attorney after that Ray Lewis fiasco? I did some Googling, and it's fascinating what I found when I Googled Howard's name, his position, Fulton County and the word "incompetence."

It seems I'm not the first person to make that connection. One former assistant district attorney who worked for Howard starting a petition urging his recall; another former assistant district attorney who worked for Howard spoke of his "long list of blunders."

Yet Howard, a black Democrat, continues to get re-elected. What does it take to get elected in Atlanta? Being black, a Democrat and being able to see lightning and hear thunder?

Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.

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