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Burden of Proof

Ray Lewis Pleads Guilty to Misdemeanor; Murder Charges Dropped

Aired June 5, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL HOWARD, FULTON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: How do you plea to one count of obstruction, as contained in the accusation 00S-C06574?

RAY LEWIS: Guilty.

ED GARLAND, ATTORNEY FOR RAY LEWIS: The conduct involved here, involved Ray Lewis saying to the people in the limousine: Keep your mouth shut. He also gave a partial statement that this court heard during the trial, which did not contain all of the information.

JUDGE ALICE D. BONNER, FULTON COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT: Your sentence to your guilty plea on your guilty plea will be 12 months of probation. The conditions of your probation are that you use no drugs, no alcohol, remain employed and report as directed. Do you understand all that?

LEWIS: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: NFL all-pro Ray Lewis pleads guilty to a misdemeanor charge and goes from being a murder defendant to a witness for the prosecution.

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDER OF PROOF with Roger Cossack and Greta Van Susteren.

COSSACK: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

This morning, in Atlanta, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis pleaded guilty to one count of obstruction of justice. In exchange for that plea of guilty, prosecutors agreed to drop murder charges, and Lewis agreed to testify for the prosecution.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Lewis entered the plea before Superior Court Judge Alice Bonner. He was sentenced to one year probation under Georgia's First Offender Act.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARLAND: If we had just won the case with a directed verdict, or an acquittal with a jury, the media and the public would always still think: Well, the lawyers got him off or the D.A. fumbled the ball. And what we have achieved here is for the D.A. to come in and say: The evidence does not show that Ray Lewis is guilty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSSACK: Joining us today from Atlanta is the legal defense team for Ray Lewis, Ed Garland and Don Samuel. And here in Washington, Brian Jones (ph), Maryland state prosecutor Doug Gansler and Philip Mobely (ph).

VAN SUSTEREN: And in our back row, Gloria Gantt (ph), Casey Hemard (ph) and D'James Rogers (ph). Also joining us from outside the Fulton County Superior Courthouse in Atlanta is CNN/"Sports Illustrated" senior correspondent Nick Charles.

Ed, first to you, who started these negotiation for a plea? and when did they begin?

GARLAND: They were started by Paul Howard yesterday with a phone call to me. I was on my way to work on my closing remarks to the jury, reached me in my car, we arranged to go to my home. When he arrived there, he said that he wanted to end the case against Ray Lewis, that the evidence did not show he was guilty, and he wanted to know would Ray admit to having misled the police and admit to having told the witnesses initially to keep their mouths shut.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ed, you know, it is a wonderful victory for a defense lawyer, and I'm sure that your client is greatly relieved. However, as we watch the case unfold over the past two weeks, it seems to me, this prosecutor could have made this decision a lot earlier. Do you have that sense as well?

GARLAND: Yes, I do. I think he felt somehow he could hold the case in. I think he realized that his evidence kept falling away. Finally, he brought on a Chester Anderson, the fraudulent impostor character. After that, I felt like the case what on the courtroom floor for the prosecution. We felt very confident that we might have gotten a motion for directed verdict granted. And I felt very confident about an acquittal with the jury.

COSSACK: Don Samuel, as co-counsel in this case, you obviously had an opportunity to see witness statements and to challenge witnesses that may have testified against you. Apparently, you get the feeling or I got the feeling that many of the witnesses that the prosecution called had said one thing earlier, and then got up on the witness stand and said something else. Is that your impression?

DON SAMUEL, ATTORNEY FOR RAY LEWIS: Yeah, there were lot of inconsistent statements, the statements given to the police at the night of the incident, and the days thereafter were inconsistent with some of the trial testimony. I'm not sure if that is uncommon. I think that people's memories are not always perfect, and what they remember sometimes is what they said as opposed to what they saw, but...

COSSACK: Well, Don, I agree with you that perhaps it is not too uncommon, but I would say, at least in my experience, it is uncommon for a witness like the limousine driver to apparently have told the prosecutor that he heard people, two of the defendants at least say: I got my mine, which is a pretty strong statement in a murder case, and then get up on the witness stand and deny that he ever said something like that, or at least say he never said something like that.

SAMUEL: That was certainly unusual and unexpected. The limousine driver has been questioned over many, many hours, and his statements evolved over time, and they were frequently different, as time went on. By the time he came to the witness stand, he just simply had no recollections of those statements having been made.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ed, before we got to our Nick Charles, from CNN, I want to ask you a quick question about what the plea means, so that we can ask Nick what the NFL is likely to do. Under Georgia law, if you plead to the First Offender -- or if it is under the First Offender Act, does the criminal conviction go away after a period of time or does he always have a misdemeanor?

GARLAND: When he completes his probationary sentence, the conviction is wiped out and he can respond that he has no conviction of any sort.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, let's go to CNN's Nick Charles.

Nick, in light of the fact that he has now pled guilty the a misdemeanor, and in one year, if he behaves himself, it is going to be wiped out; what is the NFL going to do?

NICK CHARLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the league -- we'll start with the Baltimore Ravens, they say they are welcoming Ray Lewis, Greta, back with open arms. As for the league, we've learned that they are going to suspend Ray Lewis two to six weeks for his involvement in this incident. And it is an interesting legal question. He's been exonerated of all murder charges, aggravated assault, but in connection with two people being killed and obstruction of justice in that instance, I would presuppose that the NFL feels it has a legal right to do what they are about to do.

VAN SUSTEREN: When you say two to six weeks, it makes a big difference whether that two to six weeks, I imagine is now or whether it is September 1. When is that two to six weeks likely to start?

CHARLES: Really don't know at this point. But I would suspect, once training camp is open, perhaps it would put the Ravens a little bit behind the 8-ball, but I would think that Ray Lewis, as you indicated, has moved behind the 8-ball to free and clear, basically, as long as he behaves himself for the next 12 months.

COSSACK: Yes, he has gone from behind the 8-ball to having the cue stick in his hand. Nick, have you talked to any of the other co- defendants' lawyers? and if so, what do they have to say?

CHARLES: Well, David Wolfe (ph), his spin on it, he is co- defending Reginald Oakley. He said that, look, the prosecution spent weeks trying to discredit Ray Lewis and paint him out to be a liar, and they successfully did that. All of a sudden, he is going to turn states evidence. He feels that his credibility, Ray Lewis', has been dented by this. That's the spin they take on it.

He doesn't want to discuss what is in the -- what Ray Lewis' testimony would contain because of the gag order. But, you know, we've already been publicly told that it can't possibly help. Wolfe did imply to me that there is something that Lewis would say that would be in favor of his client. it is hard to believe that he would say anything that would help Reginald Oakley at this time. But they are going to proceed forward. He said no reason right now to change their case, change their approach or that they are desperate and they feel that they have to put Reginald Oakley on the stand right now to defend himself.

VAN SUSTEREN: Ed, who made the call to Ray Lewis? and what was his reaction when the deal was proposed?

GARLAND: It was one of humility. He wanted a moment to spend in prayer, which we did. And his reaction was: I want all the truth out. I was not guilty. And to the extent I did anything improper, I want to face it.

COSSACK: Don, in terms of the believability of Ray Lewis, I mean, it seems to me that, you know, for you guys, this is a wonderful situation. But for a second, I am going to ask you to be a prosecutor, you've heard this case, I mean, can anything Ray Lewis say rescue this case for the prosecution?

SAMUEL: Yes, I think so. I think in watching Ray being debriefed yesterday and videotaped, it was quite obvious that he was being 100 percent candid. I'm certain the jury will find his testimony absolutely credible. And the fact that, you know, within an hour of the incident he was not fully complete with the police, I don't think really challenges his credibility at all. When you see him testify, there won't be any question in anybody's mind that he's telling the truth.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nick, what was the reaction to the D.A.'s team in the courtroom? Were they rather sullen as the plea was going down?

CHARLES: Yes, Greta, what the prosecutor told us, Paul Howard, is that the prosecution has no remorse for having put Ray Lewis on trial for murder, but that they are pursuing a suspect in the double killings at this point. So there's another suspect, perhaps, out there.

Once again, he said he's very anxious to get...

VAN SUSTEREN: It seems we have an audio problem coming out of Atlanta. That was Nick Charles who was joining us.

We are going to take a break. When we come back, what will Ray Lewis' testimony mean for the prosecution and to his former co- defendants. Stay with us.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

Following his arrest on sexual assault charges, Green Bay Packers tight end Mark Chmura announced he is being released from the team.

Chmura will be arraigned on June 23. The case could go to trial later this year.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

COSSACK: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers. You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log-on to CNN.com/Burden. We now provide a live video feed, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. And if you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show and even join our chat room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GARLAND: I'd rather not go into the details, but I can tell you that during the fight, he saw no knife but he saw actions and conduct at that time, which he will testify about.

HOWARD: We plan to call Ray Lewis as a witness tomorrow, and certainly we don't want to talk about, you know, the details of the agreement until that's passed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis has struck a deal with Fulton County prosecutors and will testify against his former co-defendants in return for his misdemeanor guilty plea earlier today.

Doug, if you were the prosecutor in the case, it is a misdemeanor, it is going to vanish in a year if he behaves himself. Would you make any recommendation to the NFL?

DOUG GANSLER, STATE'S ATTORNEY, MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND: In terms of NFL, given their policy today, I probably would. Because what we have to remember this happened I guess in the O.J. Simpson case, it is not that he was found not guilty. The prosecution decided they could not prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt.

VAN SUSTEREN: They gave up.

COSSACK: That's even better.

VAN SUSTEREN: They folded, it is even worse, Doug, because they took this all the way down, and they presented witnesses, and they folded on a Sunday morning in a call to Ed.

GANSLER: The biggest priority of the prosecution, we have two dead people here, the prosecution wants to make sure they get the stabbers, the actual people who committed the murders.

COSSACK: They should always want do that. GANSLER: And they should always want to do that. This happens every day. What happened here happens every day where you get somebody who is lesser involved perhaps in a lesser degree to testify against the main principals.

VAN SUSTEREN: They gave him a complete wash. I mean, they gave him a misdemeanor that is going to vanish.

Ed, is this an instance, as Doug suggests, where they are trying to get leverage to convict two others? or did the prosecution fold because they couldn't prove it?

GARLAND: The prosecution determined that Ray Lewis was innocent, unlike what Doug discusses, which is normal, and which happens often, as you know. In this particular case, they looked at all of the evidence and they said: We have determined that Ray Lewis is innocent. The only way they can say that is to dismiss totally the charges against him.

COSSACK: Don, let me see if I can get into a little thinking of the prosecutor in this case. What came first, was it, OK, we will give you the misdemeanor, and then you just come in and testify for us? or was it, let's hear what you have to say, and then I will give you the misdemeanor?

SAMUEL: Well, the discussions yesterday were, we need to dispose of this case. We do not think Ray Lewis is guilty of the murders or the aggravated assault. I think they had interviewed additional witnesses over the last couple now days, but the conversation at Ed's house began: We are going to dispose of this case, we are going to dismiss the charges.

VAN SUSTEREN: Did they actually say: We think he's innocent? Did they say that to you.

SAMUEL: Absolutely.

COSSACK: Now does that mean then, therefore, let's suppose that Ray Lewis said, you know, I don't really have anything to say. For some reason, I just can't remember and I got back in that limousine, and I just don't know anything, would they have still given you this plea bargain?

SAMUEL: Well, I don't know. I mean, they certainly wanted to hear from him. Part of the plea agreement was that he would be willing to make a statement. But I should tell you, significantly, the plea agreement was struck before he gave the statement. We had signed the plea agreement that all charges would be dismissed, all the murder and aggravated assault charges, before he gave the statement.

COSSACK: Doug...

SAMUEL: That's unusual.

COSSACK: I was just about to follow up with Doug. I mean, I've never heard anything like this. Whenever the prosecutors came to me, if I was defending, they, first of all, wanted to hear what my client had to say; and second of all, no charges got dismissed until after my client testified, so that the problem of perhaps having somebody change their story wouldn't occur. I mean, isn't this unusual?

GANSLER: It is an unusual circumstance, mostly because the timeliness of it. Very often in the middle of a trial you will have somebody plea to a lesser degree of murder and then actually go an testify. What is unusual particularly about this case is he is pleading to a completely separate crime for which he was indicted. But they still need -- the prosecution needs to present him to the jury.

I mean, the prosecution now has sort of an interesting issue in terms of their own credibility for the remainder of this trial, wherein they are trying to get the two people who actually did stab the two people who are now dead.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, it is curious, what are they going to say to the jury: Oops, we had the wrong guy.

But let me ask you something, Doug, in light of what Don and Ed say that prosecution has concluded that Ray Lewis is innocent, not that they couldn't prove it, but that he's innocent, would you still feel it necessary, as a prosecutor, to have any contact with the NFL, in terms of what type of discipline or the Baltimore Ravens, what kind of discipline they impose?

GANSLER: I don't think prosecutor actually, in most cases, would have contact with the NFL. I mean, the NFL probably wouldn't ask them to comment...

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you can volunteer a letter, you can volunteer a call.

GANSLER: Yes, I think at this point the prosecution can certainly say: A grand jury thought he probably did what it was that he was accused of doing. I'm not sure whether they said he's innocent or not...

VAN SUSTEREN: Let's accept it as true, I've known Ed for a long time, I assume Ed is telling me the truth, and Don too, assume, you know, he is innocent, they think he's innocent. Do you think the prosecutor should write Modell?

GANSLER: Absolutely, and that is what the prosecution did here, what we know about it, they reassessed their case, as they should in every case, and make sure they are not convicting somebody who they think is innocent; that is if they think he's innocent. But remember, there is some uncontroverted evidence, and they said it today, like Ray Lewis didn't see the knife at the time of the fight. What we know is he was with the two defendants when they bought the knife in the first place.

VAN SUSTEREN: But that's a far cry from saying they saw him use the knife...

GANSLER: That's right.

VAN SUSTEREN: ... far cry.

GANSLER: That's right. And that's why the prosecution is allowing him to plea to this misdemeanor. And of course, Ray Lewis, given the NFL...

VAN SUSTEREN: Or because they think he's innocent, not because of that.

GANSLER: Perhaps.

COSSACK: And they also think that he obstructed justice, which he has pled guilty to.

VAN SUSTEREN: He admitted that.

COSSACK: I don't know what it all adds up to, but I know we've got to take a break. Up next, a change in focus to Washington and the U.S. Supreme Court, and a decision on grandparents' visitation rights. Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: In unrelated testimony Friday, attorney F. Lee Bailey said his former client O.J. Simpson took a polygraph test just days after the murder of his ex-wife, but stopped because it wasn't going well. Who does Bailey claim took the lie detector results?

A: Former Simpson lawyer Robert Shapiro.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: The U.S. Supreme Court handed down several rulings this morning: cases including Clinton friend Webster Hubbell and the visitation rights of grandparents.

Joining us now from the U.S. Supreme Court is CNN senior Washington correspondent Charles Bierbauer.

Charles, was it a good day or a bad day for the grandparents?

CHARLES BIERBAUER, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was a day in which the court ruled that parents have a "higher priority" than grandparents, in the words of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who wrote the opinion for a plurality, not a majority of this court, saying that "the presumption that fit parents act in the children's best interest is the highest priority here."

The judges were split considerably on this case, which arose out of Washington State where grandparents sued for more time with two of their granddaughters after the girl's father died. The mother subsequently remarried and the mother and the grandparents simply couldn't agree on what was the amount of time to spend together. Very unusual that this even reached the Supreme Court, but Washington State had a very broad law that said anyone at any time can sue for visitation rights. That law was struck down in the Washington State Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court said that's the way it should have been. So the grandparents lose on that issue, Roger.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about Webster Hubbell, the former number- three at the Justice Department? How did he do in the Supreme Court?

BIERBAUER: I don't know if he's a grandparent, but he's happy today because he finally got one of these cases against him arising out of Whitewater dismissed. This was a tax-evasion question and a plea bargain with the independent counsel Kenneth Starr in which Hubbell was compelled to turn over some of his tax records, and then Starr then, in essence, used those to prosecute this plea bargain.

What the court said is the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution says you can't do that. It's a violation of, basically, self- incrimination principles. And so this particular charge against Mr. Hubbell, the court says, must be dismissed.

VAN SUSTEREN: Doug, I think that this is -- the Hubbell decision was 8-1, with the chief justice dissenting, and I think that's a resounding message to the independent counsel about what happened to Hubbell in this particular case.

GANSLER: Yes, I don't think it's that controversial. Clearly, if you need external reasons to get the subpoena to get the documents, if the only -- if you use the subpoena, you give him immunity and you go on a fishing expedition, you can't use those documents to prosecute.

VAN SUSTEREN: But you know, so many of the decision we've seen out of the Supreme Court are 5-4 or 6-3 or a plurality.

COSSACK: Right.

VAN SUSTEREN: I mean, the fact that this is an 8-1 -- this may be 8-1 in favor of Hubbell, but it also can be looked at as 8-1 against the independent counsel in terms of what -- how his office interprets the Constitution.

GANSLER: Right and...

COSSACK: On this particular matter.

GANSLER: Right, and this happens...

COSSACK: Now, is this a reverse Linda Tripp what happened here? In other words, the Supreme Court has said you can't use this information that you got by way of a subpoena after you offered immunity. Is this sort of the other side of the story about what happened with Linda Tripp.

GANSLER: Right, and the prosecutor -- it is exactly that. And the prosecutor needs to make the decision up front that they want. And once they make a decision to give immunity, they're barred for using any of that for any purpose or the fruits of that evidence, the results of the evidence they get. So they need to make that decision...

VAN SUSTEREN: Charles, in the 10 seconds we have left, what's left to come in this term?

BIERBAUER: What's left to come? Big cases: abortion issue out of Nebraska, the attempt by the state there to put a ban on partial- birth abortions. Gay boy scouts: Can the Boy Scouts of America ban a gay scout leader? Those are two of the biggest ones left out there. Primary -- limitations on primary campaigns -- or rather primary elections in California, and more. We'll tell you about them as they come down in the next three weeks.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, thank you, Charles.

That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests and thank you for watching.

For more developments on the Ray Lewis case, join me tonight on "CNN NEWSSTAND." That's at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time.

COSSACK: And we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.

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