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LEWIS TRIAL MAY BE HEADED FOR ABRUPT SURPRISE ENDING, SAYS UGA PROF

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Friday, May 26, 2000

WRITER: Kathy R. Pharr, (706) 542-5172, pharr@arches.uga.edu

CONTACT: Ron Carlson, (706) 542-5186

LEWIS TRIAL MAY BE HEADED FOR ABRUPT SURPRISE ENDING, SAYS UGA PROF

ATHENS, Ga. -- A smart move for the defense in the Ray Lewis murder trial may be to stop while they're ahead, says University of Georgia trial law expert Ron Carlson, as the prosecution is faltering badly in its effort to link Lewis to his two co-defendants in the Buckhead Super Bowl murders.

"The evidence of the scene presented by witnesses who were outside the Cobalt Lounge is one of complete confusion," says Carlson. "The district attorney promised that the limo driver would be able to pull everything together. That did not happen. And that raises a very good question: Will the defense put on any evidence? Perhaps not."

Carlson predicts that the defense attorneys might move for a directed verdict -- asking the judge to throw out the case before it moves to the jury. Should that request fail, they could counter with an even bolder move - to decline to present any evidence at all and head directly to closing arguments. Attorneys for all three defendants - Ray Lewis, Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting - must join in such a concerted, combined request, but given the remarkable level of cooperation that has marked the proceedings so far, Carlson says, it might be achieved. And the strategy would create an intriguing tactical opportunity.

"It might signal to the jury the sort of subliminal message, 'They haven't laid a glove on any of us,'" Carlson says. "It might suggest that 'We feel so unwounded by the state's evidence that none of the three of us needs to put up any evidence.' Of course, if no evidence is presented, it does change the order of closing arguments: the defense gets to go first and last in the closings if they put on no evidence. This is a very, very interesting aspect of Georgia criminal practice."

Carlson compares the long Memorial Weekend courtroom break to halftime of a football game, perhaps most benefitting the team that's behind - in this case, the prosecution - by letting them regroup. One strategy that appears to be backfiring is the decision not to indict Ray Lewis on lesser counts.

"In my opinion, while the evidence of murder in this case has been very thin against Ray Lewis, there has been strong evidence of the crimes of giving a false report to police and obstructing justice," Carlson notes. "The prosecution apparently took the view that unless they gave the jury little choice to compromise, they wouldn't be able to get to where they wanted to go with Ray Lewis. I think that was a mistake. Under Georgia law, those charges cannot be added later."

Carlson, a nationally recognized expert in evidence, trial practice and criminal procedure, has litigated many cases and has argued twice before the United States Supreme Court. He has written numerous books on trial techniques and provided extensive commentary for the national media in high-profile trials. For further comment, contact Prof. Carlson at his office, (706) 542-5186.

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