Howard’s case imploded on day two, the first day I attended the trial. Witnesses included Howard, Chris Shinholster and Jeff Gwen, two friends of the victims. All four men hailed from Akron, Ohio.
Both Shinholster and Gwen testified that the incident started when Gwen uttered an insult that Oakley, who was passing by, thought was directed at him. The two men exchanged some heated words.
The witnesses testified that Lewis grabbed Oakley, told him to calm down, and led him back to the limousine. Shinholster and Gwen said that the incident was over, squashed and done with. Lewis’ party was about to leave.
And everybody was still alive.
Who, then, started the beef anew? Why, Baker and Lollar, the so-called “victims.”
Baker walked up and asked Gwen what happened. Gwen told him it was just some guys talking trash and that the incident was over.
But Baker would have none of it. Cursing and shouting insults, he walked toward the Lewis limo. Lollar, not to be outdone in ratcheting up these macho idiocy sweepstakes, blurted out these words:
“Bleep them n***s! This is O-H-10!”
Lollar was serving notice that he and his buddies were true bad asses from OHIO – Akron, no less – and not to be messed with.
That’s when Oakley leapt from the limo; Baker cold-cocked him with a champagne bottle.
From then on, all hell broke loose. Gwen testified that all he saw Lewis doing was “tussling” with Lollar. In direct contradiction to Gwen’s testimony, Shinholster said Lewis didn’t even do that.
Shinholster said he and Lewis engaged in a stare-down for much of the fight. Eventually, Shinholster ran behind a tree where Oakley and Baker were fighting and found Oakley standing over Baker, shaking him.
Such facts do not a conviction for murder make. It’s too bad the families of Lollar and Baker – and USA Today’s sports editors – can’t acknowledge that and move on.