Lewis and his defense attorney, however, have long maintained Lewis was trying to act as a peacemaker, to get his friends back in the limo and away from trouble.
When the trial started, the case crumbled on live television. Witnesses changed their stories. Defense lawyers tore down the claims of witnesses who had troubled pasts or had spent the night drinking.
Prosecutors "put their case together with Band-Aids and it didn't hold together," Lewis' attorney, Ed Garland, told CNN this week.
The district attorney's office ended up dropping the murder charges against Lewis in the middle of the trial to cut a plea deal. Lewis agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of obstruction of justice and testify against his friends.
But in the end, that wasn't enough to win prosecutors a conviction. The jury acquitted Oakley and Sweeting, too.
No was ever convicted in the killings.
Ray Lewis' path to redemption had begun.
A year later, Lewis was back at the Super Bowl, this time as a player. He earned Most Valuable Player honors in a 34-7 rout of the New York Giants.
In the ensuing years, Lewis stuck close to a growing faith, one nurtured during rollicking prayer services at Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore.
"God has done something in my life -- and not just for me to see it," Sports Illustrated quoted Lewis as saying during a service there in 2006. "God has done something in my life for every hater, every enemy."
Strong faith comes naturally to Lewis, said his pastor, the Rev. Jamal Bryant.
"He's a jack-leg preacher without a license, no Bible college, but it's just in him," Bryant said. "He can't help it. He's spoken here a couple of times. I've put him up to do our Bible study and he's like Billy Graham and Bishop (T.D.) Jakes wrapped into one."
So while most of the football world still knew him as Ray Lewis, his fans in Baltimore were learning a different name for him.
Reverend Ray, they would come to call him.
Lewis announced last year that he would make this season his last, and analysts say both he and his Ravens team have played inspired football in reaching the Super Bowl.
Along the way, he's spoken frequently of his faith, putting it on display for everyone to see.
"You can go build buildings. You can have a nice whatever you want to have," Lewis told reporters this week. "But, impact is totally different, and when you talk about the walk of Jesus, his whole walk was impact."
"My life is based off impact," Lewis said, "grabbing somebody and letting them know that life is to be lived together to figure out the wrongs and rights and teach somebody else those morals and ethics so they don't go back down those same roads."