Brent Schrotenboer, USA TODAY Sports
Thirteen years since his acquittal on murder charges, Reginald Oakley still doesn't want to say who stabbed two men to death on Jan. 31, 2000.
Was Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis involved in the murders?
"I can't answer that," Oakley told USA TODAY Sports.
Did Oakley kill anybody and get away with it at trial?
"I can't answer that," he said.
Oakley, 44, avoids giving away too much information because he says he plans to release a book about it this summer called Memories of Murder. In the book, he said he will provide those answers and his own eyewitness account of the crime scene that morning outside a nightclub in Atlanta.
The crime remains unsolved but now is getting new attention - and rekindling emotions - as Lewis prepares to play in his final NFL game in the Super Bowl on Feb. 3. The game will come 13 years after Lewis and his friends took a limousine to their own Super Bowl party.
They just wanted to have good time, Oakley says. Instead, two men were fatally stabbed several times in the heart and upper body. Oakley, Lewis and another friend, Joseph Sweeting, were charged with their murders.
In the end, only one person received a conviction in the case - Lewis, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice. The other two - Oakley and Sweeting - were acquitted at trial. Oakley lives in Atlanta, Sweeting in Miami.
"I can tell it like this, not that I owe (Lewis) any type of protection," Oakley said this week. "What happened, it wasn't our fault what happened. It happened, but we didn't instigate none of what happened. We had a great time and were on our way to the limousine to go back to our hotel, and those guys came out, for whatever reason. I think it was to rob (Lewis) because it was a dark alley and they were standing at the alley. I think it was just an opportunity for them to do whatever they had in mind."
Oakley, who did not testify at trial, won't say who did what but will say he believes Lewis was targeted "because of the way he was dressed" and that it all started when Lewis had a confrontation with the victims, possibly after one of them called Lewis a name.
"They exchanged words then, and it just went from there," Oakley said.
In exchange for his murder charge being dropped, Lewis testified for the prosecution at trial. Yet he never directly linked his friends to the killings, helping lead to their acquittals.
Lewis admitted to lying to police in the case, which led to his misdemeanor guilty plea. In his testimony, he also admitted to going to a sporting goods store the day before with Oakley and Sweeting, who purchased knives there. Blood from one of the victims was found in Lewis' limousine after they had fled the crime scene. The white suit Lewis was wearing that night never was found.
FBI agent Peter McFarland said at a pre-trial hearing that he found stains on Lewis' pillow and bathrobe at his hotel room afterward, stains he believed to be blood. At trial, Lewis testified the blood on his pillow stemmed from a football injury, and that he didn't know how blood got on the robe.
He has denied stabbing anybody and said he didn't know who killed the victims.
Another friend, Kwame King, also accompanied Lewis to the club that night and to the sporting goods store the day before. He told USA TODAY Sports this week that Lewis was not involved in the killings.
"It's a shame that he was even in that situation," King said. "He had nothing to do with it, and it's a travesty that he even had to go through that ordeal. That's my only statement. Thank you."
The closest Lewis came to directly implicating somebody in the crimes was when he testified about a conversation he had with Sweeting afterward at the hotel.
When he asked Sweeting what happened, Lewis said at trial that Sweeting made a motion with his arm and told him, "Every time they hit me, I hit them."
"And then, when he did that, he had (a) knife in his - around his hand," Lewis said of Sweeting.
Lewis also said he saw Oakley hitting one of the victims in the chest "four or five times," and that the victim was not fighting back.
A member of Sweeting's family hung up when reached by USA TODAY Sports. The prosecutor in the case, Paul Howard, declined an interview about it, as did Lewis.
Conflicting and inconsistent witness accounts led to the acquittals, establishing a lack of clarity that still clouds the case. It was dark and crowded with intoxicated patrons spilling out of a nightclub around 4 a.m. Oakley says there were "three or four" fights going, and that the killings happened in self-defense. He said Lewis placed him in the limo to get him away from the fracas, but then Oakley got out of the limo to warn Lewis about people coming up from behind him. At that point, Oakley said one of the victims, Jacinth Baker, hit him over the head with a Moet bottle.
"It definitely was self defense because no one was expecting anything like that," Oakley said. "Everyone was having a great time. We had a great weekend. It was so unexpected and happened so fast."
In the trial, Howard described the self-defense theory as "ridiculous," in part because one witness testified seeing Baker "running for his life" and another said she witnessed a vicious beating.
The victims' families also view it differently, with many of them angry at Lewis because they believe Lewis has not told all that he knows about the case. Because of that, they still bristle at the sight of Lewis on television.
The victims, Baker and Richard Lollar, were 21 and 24 at the time of their deaths and had minor criminal records. They are buried in Akron, Ohio, about 20 miles from where Lewis is expected to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
"We're very interested in (Oakley's) book, as long as he's not lying in the book," said Greg Wilson, Baker's uncle. "They were acquitted. They could tell the truth, and really nothing could happen because that would be double jeopardy."
Oakley previously attempted to sell a book on the murders but said he decided to do it over again with new information. He also said he is working on a screenplay about that night.
Oakley declined to say if he's still in touch with Lewis or Sweeting but said that Lewis is aware of his book and "not thrilled about it because he's trying to put it all behind him."
Asked if Lewis told everything he knew about the case, Oakley said, "I'm sure there are some things he'd rather not talk about. If you were in a situation like that, and you know how the media and public is, you wouldn't want to talk about it either. It's a tough situation to be in."
Lewis reached undisclosed settlements with two parties who sued him afterward: Baker's grandmother and the family of Lollar's fiancé.
Other family members still want answers.
What happened to Lewis' suit that night?
"I can't tell you. Only he can answer that," Oakley said.
Why were you guys buying knives the day before?
"I can't," Oakley said. "I can't. I talk about that in the book. ... I can't answer that right now."
Follow Brent Schrotenboer on Twitter @Schrotenboer.
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