How the Ray Lewis and Kelvin Joseph Cases Are Similar – and Different

On January 31, 2000, following the Super Bowl, Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, then 4 years into his career, was involved in an altercation that left 2 young men dead of stab wounds. Lewis did not do the stabbing, but sped away from the scene with companions who did in his rented limousine, and conspired with his friends to remain silent about the event and hide evidence. A white suit worn that night by Lewis, presumably tainted with blood, disappeared and was not available for the trial.

Lewis was later arrested and jailed for the double murder even while his cohorts were not - probably a strong-arm prosecution tactic to compel his cooperation. He took a plea deal that reduced his charges to misdemeanor Obstruction of Justice, and he agreed to testify for the prosecution. The jury in the case acquitted the defendants of murder due to lack of evidence and possibility of self-defense, with Lewis receiving 12 months’ probation for the Obstruction charge. At the time, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue fined Lewis $250,000 but did not suspend him. Following these events, the victims' families sued Lewis in civil court, resulting in undisclosed settlements paid to both.

The similarities between Lewis’ and Joseph’s situations are easy to spot:

· Both grew up in challenging circumstances and ran with some rough crowds, even after entering the NFL.

· Both were involved in incidents that erupted in violence between two groups of young men outside of night clubs.

· Both (presumably) did not physically participate in the killings.

· Both left the scene with the perpetrators of the violence that resulted in the deaths.

· Both chose not to come forward to cooperate in the incident investigation, and actively conspired to stay silent.

The distinctions between the cases are still unfolding, and thus leave tremendous uncertainty:

· Kelvin Joseph has not been arrested, charged, or jailed, like Lewis was. Lewis took a plea deal and agreed to act as star witness for the prosecution. It is unknown what level of cooperation Joseph is offering or being compelled to offer.

· In Lewis’ case, the killers were acquitted based on possibility of self-defense. So, Lewis obstructed justice in a case with no actual murder conviction. Self-defense does not seem to apply in the Joseph case. His group left the scene and then returned later of their own volition. Whether anyone is found guilty of felony murder or manslaughter in the Joseph case could be an aggravating factor in punishment for his involvement.

· Firearms were used in the Joseph case, while the Lewis case involved stabbings. Crimes involving guns are currently treated more seriously by the legal system than those that do not.

· The Ray Lewis case happened 22 years ago, in a different state with different laws.

· In 2000, the NFL commissioner’s office took a much different approach to player discipline. Drugs were, by far, treated as the most serious offenses, carrying the heaviest suspensions and fines. Today, personal conduct is a much more serious factor than drug use. I cannot imagine that Ray Lewis would not face a long suspension in today’s NFL.

With so many differences and unknowns, I see a very broad range of outcomes for Joseph:

· Best possible outcome – the case is dropped, and no charges are filed against Kelvin Joseph or his companions. Roger Goodell may still choose to suspend Joseph, somewhere in the 4-8 game range. Joseph and the Cowboys would be able to move forward with his NFL career with just a possible short-term interruption.

· Next best outcome – Joseph is guilty of a misdemeanor and agrees to cooperate, similar to the Ray Lewis case. His companions are acquitted on the most serious charges. This leads to an 8-16 game suspension from the commissioner’s office. Joseph would still have an NFL future, if the team chooses to support him and wait out the suspension.

· Relatively ugly outcome – Joseph is guilty of misdemeanor obstruction, cooperates, and his friends are convicted of felonies. This results in at least 1 full season suspension from the commissioner. Joseph’s NFL future gets cloudier at this point.

· Really ugly outcome – Joseph is guilty of a felony, with a serious role in covering up a murder, and serves some time. This probably puts him in Henry Ruggs territory, where any future in the NFL is in question.

Based on what we know at this point, I think Joseph and Ray Lewis’ cases as very similar – they were both caught up in similar violent situations with a group of friends, albeit not themselves committing the violence, and failed to come forward. However, the differences in the legal aspects of the cases could result in a much harsher outcome for Joseph. We will all have to wait for the legal process to play out and resist passing final judgement until all the facts in the case are known. On the football level, the Cowboys and their fans should prepare to be without Joseph for at least several games, and potentially much more.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.