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City jail corruption trial to begin in federal court

Baltimore City Detention Center
Baltimore City Detention Center (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun)

The trial of the eight remaining defendants charged in a case that alleged widespread corruption among inmates at the Baltimore City Detention Center and corrections officers is slated to begin with jury selection Monday in U.S. District Court.

The case is scheduled to last eight weeks and will be conducted in the large, rarely used ceremonial courtroom of Baltimore's federal courthouse.

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Thirty-five of the 44 defendants have pleaded guilty, while another died shortly before the indictment was unsealed. Six of the remaining defendants — Clarissa Clayton, Riccole Hall, Ashley Newton, Travis Paylor, Michelle Ricks and Michelle McNair — are corrections officers or jail staff. Two others, Joseph "Monster" Young and Russell "Rutt" Carrington, are inmates.

The case was thrust into the spotlight in spring 2013 with the indictment of 24 people, including Black Guerrilla Family leader Tavon White, and brought national scrutiny to the state's corrections department and spurred legislative hearings. An additional 19 people were indicted in fall 2013.

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Prosecutors have said BGF members recruited correctional officers through "personal and often sexual relationships as well as bribes, and that some officers traded sex for money."

Attorneys representing defendants said the government continues to add discovery evidence even as the trial nears.

Kevin McCants, who is representing Clayton, said, "The government has pulled a lot of jailbird witnesses at the last moment to try to incriminate most of the defendants. I think it's going to be a trial that will end quickly with a not guilty verdict for Ms. Clayton."

Both Michael Montemarano, who is representing Paylor, and Hall's attorney, David R. Solomon, said they are looking forward to presenting their cases in court. Montemarano said "the government side of the story isn't like what the indictment laid out," and said he wants jurors to hear "our side."

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Attorneys for Newton and McNair declined to comment; attorneys for Ricks, Carrington and Young could not be reached for comment.

Extra security measures will be in place — no one other than the prosecution and defense will be allowed to bring in electronic devices, which aren't allowed to be used in the courtroom anyway.

"The safety of cooperating witnesses is of concern to the Court," U.S. District Judge Ellen L. Hollander wrote in a recent order.

Hollander oversaw motions hearings, but U.S. District Judge Frederick Motz will preside over the trial. Jurors have been pre-screened, and defense attorneys expect jury selection to take one day. About 75 prospective jurors have been summoned for the first day, attorneys said.

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