Aaron Hernandez case starting to look a lot like the Ray Lewis case of 2000

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

There were parallels drawn between Aaron Hernandez and O.J. Simpson when Hernandez was spied by the media driving a white SUV as details emerged in the death of associate Odin Lloyd. The famed Simpson chase, in which the former running back and friend Al Cowlings tried to evade police in a white Bronco, happened 19 years ago Monday. Simpson was expected to turn himself in on the afternoon of June 17, 1994, but when he didn't, Los Angeles police tracked him down via phone records and followed him in a bizarre low-speed pursuit as Cowlings drove the Bronco, and Simpson laid in the backseat with a gun to his head.

The white SUV aside, though, there aren't too many similarities between the Hernandez and Simpson cases -- at least, not yet. So far, with the news that Hernandez could be arrested on obstruction of justice chargers, the case this most closely resembles is the one that got former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis 12 months of probation in 2000. On June 5 of that year, Lewis pled guilty to one count of obstruction of justice, and was sentenced to the maximum sentence for a first-time offender. The NFL fined Lewis $250,000, but did not suspend him.

Lewis had originally been charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of Jacinth Baker and Richard Lollar, who were killed in Atlanta after a Super Bowl party on Jan. 30 of that year. A group of people that included Lewis and companions Reginald Oakley and Joseph Sweeting were questioned by police, and Lewis, Oakley, and Sweeting were arrested. Lewis pled out the two murder charges in exchange for his testimony against Oakley and Sweeting, primarily because there didn't seem to be any concrete evidence linking him to the deaths.

However, just as Hernandez may have destroyed his home security system and cellular phone, and hired a company to clean his house following Lloyd's death, there were some serious questions about the evidence in the Lewis case. The white suit Lewis was wearing on the night in question has never been found, a knife found at the scene had no fingerprints or DNA, and Lewis later admitted giving false testimony to the police in the matter, and telling his companions to "keep [your] mouths shut."

According to the Associated Press' account of Lewis' sentencing hearing, there were other issues that tied Lewis -- or someone in Lewis' party -- to obstruction. Duane Fassett, the driver of Lewis' limousine, testified that Lewis told everyone in the limo to "just keep your mouth shut and don't say nothing." Evelyn Sparks, who was also in the limo, said that she saw another passenger put a white hotel laundry bag in a nearby garbage bin. Prosecutors believe that the bag contained Lewis' bloodstained white suit, but the suit has never been found. Sparks also said that a woman named Jessica Robertson, described as Lewis' girlfriend, burned a photo of Lewis and his entourage that was taken at the Cobalt Lounge, located near the murder scene.

Prosecutors tried to implicate Lewis as part of a conspiracy to cover up the crime, but because he hadn't been charged as such, the post-crime conduct was not relevant in a conspiracy charge.

"What they have to do is produce evidence that Ray Lewis was involved in the fight that led to these deaths," Baltimore attorney Irwin R. Kramer told the AP back then. "Without additional evidence, one has to question the strength of the prosecution's case."

Oakley and Sweeting were acquitted in 2000, and nobody else has ever been charged. In 2004, Lewis reached financial settlements with the families of Baker and Lollar, pre-empting a scheduled civil trial.

"A trial is an instrument to reach the truth, and I think that in many respects it has been shielded," Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard said after Lewis' plea was accepted. "We are continuing to try to bring the truth forward."

One imagines that in the Hernandez case, as it goes forward, police and prosecutors will be more careful in what Hernandez is charged with (and when), and how the process plays out.

Lewis has been relatively circumspect about the facts of his case ever since.