Smith cleared

4-23-01, 8:00 p.m.

Updated: 4-23-01, 10:10 p.m.

BY GEOFF HOBSON

A relieved Akili Smith hopes Monday's not guilty verdict in his DUI trial means he can start relaxing as he tries to turn around his NFL career.

"I know there was some question about my character and I hope I've gotten some of that credibility back with my teammates and the fans," said Smith from San Diego, shortly after the jury reached its verdict.

"All I wanted to do was tell my side of the story and I thought if people heard it, I'd be found innocent," Smith said.

Smith said he plans to be back in Cincinnati as soon as possible to resume throwing, which he cut short 10 days ago to attend the trial and give his tired an arm a rest.

The third-year quarterback admitted his arm

has been a little tight, partly because of his new weight program, partly because of the weight of the trial, and partly because of the high-powered crowds at the Paul Brown Stadium throwing sessions.

"My body's been tight, I've got to relax more," Smith said. "Look's who been out there watching. Mike (Brown), Paul (Brown), (Bob) Bratkowski. (Jon) Kitna has been there. I've just got to loosen up, maybe back off the weights a little bit and get some flexibility in my arm. But the rest has made it feel great. I'm ready to get back."

Smith was found not guilty on two counts, DUI and driving with more than .08 alcohol in his blood. Police arrested him early in the morning of Feb. 8 after they pulled him over for going the wrong way down a one-way street.

But Smith said he testified he took a quick right turn to flee from an altercation at the club he was attending and stayed on the one-way road only briefly.

"I wasn't in the altercation, but I knew just being around it would get me in trouble," Smith said. "So I got out of there as fast as I could and it happened to be on a one-way."

Smith's lawyer, Myles Berman of the Los Angeles firm of Top Gun, said he proved to the jury that the Breathalyzer that gauged his client at a blood-alcohol level of .13 to .15 wasn't correct.

Ray Smith, Akili's father, said Berman brought out in court that his son passed the field sobriety tests at the scene and was still arrested.

"They made me take the (Breathalyzer) five times," Akili Smith said. "Some mistakes were made, but I want to make it clear that I don't think it was a racial thing."

Berman said, "One of the officers who stopped him was sick that night and I think that was a factor in his memory. There was a dispute about the version of events and we gave a minute-by-minute account of where he was."

One of Smith's first calls after Monday's verdict was to NFL doctors to make sure he wouldn't be required to enter the NFL's alcohol counseling program being declared not guilty. He also avoided what in the past has been a league fine of half a game check, which would have been about $11,000.

"He got into this jam himself and he got out of the jam himself and I feel good for him," said Bengals President Mike Brown. "I know he's got to be extremely relieved. I know I'm relieved, so I can imagine how Akili feels. It's good for him to get that out of way so he can come back here and concentrate on the job at hand."

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