It seems an odd deal — plead guilty to gun possession, agree to be imprisoned in a federal penitentiary for up to 25 years, and then admit to killing a man on East Pratt Street in Upper Fells Point back in 2009.
But that’s what Antonio “Dollar” Edwards did last week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. As part of his agreement with federal prosecutors, the 28-year-old will have to plead guilty to first-degree murder in state court. Once he does that, he will get to serve his time for both crimes in the federal system.
The Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office described this unusual plea deal in a statement and in court documents filed Friday. Federal authorities get a conviction on a gun case for a three-time felon, and state officials can avoid a trial in the slaying case.
The benefit for Edwards?
“He avoids the prospect of spending the rest of his life in jail,” said his attorney, Christopher J. Purpura. “It was an offer he couldn’t turn down. When he gets out, he’ll have a little bit of life left.”
Edwards had been convicted on felony drug charges three times before he was arrested in January 2010 and charged by state authorities with murder in the death of Kinlaw “Baby Boy” Jones, and with possessing a .45-caliber Israeli Desert Eagle handgun.
Federal authorities labeled Edwards a “career armed criminal” based on his criminal history, and his attorney said he risked life in federal prison had he fought the gun charges in front of a jury and lost.
According to his plea agreement filed in court, Edwards shot 21-year-old Jones two days after Christmas in 2009, chasing him down the street in the often crowded nightlife district, firing eight times from the high-powered handgun.
Baltimore police quickly arrested and charged Edwards in the slaying, based on the accounts of several eyewitnesses, according to the plea agreement. A few days later, an anonymous caller told police that the Desert Eagle gun used in the shooting was inside a house in Northwest Baltimore, where Edwards stayed with an ex-girlfriend.
Police said they searched the house in the 3000 block of Kenyon Ave. and found a baseball hat, a black beanie, photographs of Edwards taped to his bedroom ceiling, an Israeli Arms .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun, a holster and a box of ammunition.
The plea agreement says that ballistic tests confirmed that the six bullets that hit Jones came from the gun found on Kenyon Avenue. That, coupled with the eye-witness accounts and DNA evidence linking Edwards to Jones, gave state prosecutors a seemingly strong case.
Purpura said his client would have likely been convicted of murder in state court.
So why did prosecutors agree to the deal?
The city State’s Attorney’s Office declines to comment on pending cases, and Edwards has yet to plead guilty to the killing.
Purpura said the witnesses are involved in drug dealing and might not have appeared credible to a jury. But even more important, the defense attorney said, prosecutors didn’t want to risk publicly exposing the witnesses at trial, fearing for their safety. The state court took the unusual move of hiding witness names from documents for their protection.
As a result, Edwards will plead guilty in state court to murder, with the agreement calling for his sentence to be served concurrently in federal prison on the gun case. And he should get out of prison shortly after he turns 50.
“It’s not something we get every day,” Purpura said. “It’s very rare.”