The two-month trial of nine men accused as henchmen in one of the most murderous drug organizations in Baltimore history entered its final leg yesterday, with jurors listening intently to Shakespearean passages and stories of horrific violence.
In closing arguments, prosecutors said the Anthony Jones gang killed at least eight people, set fire to a man, threw out a body in a trash barrel, put a city police officer on its payroll and carted millions of dollars worth of cocaine in secret compartments of cars.
The trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore has seen dramatic testimony by gang members who assisted in murders, including a 1994 killing in which a rival drug dealer was assassinated by enforcers wearing masks of Ronald Reagan and George Bush.
But defense attorneys yesterday labeled the government's case as fiction created by about a half-dozen admitted killers who took the stand earlier in the trial as key prosecution witnesses. Each testified against the defendants as part of plea agreements.
Stanley H. Needleman, attorney for a man accused of being one the ring's drug couriers, told the jury that prosecutors had resorted to testimony "from sociopaths and abominations." Quoting from Shakespeare's "Macbeth," Needleman said the accusers can't be trusted.
"All of our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death . It is a tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing," he read from a scene in the famous play.
In his words, Needleman said that those who testified -- including New York drug dealer Derek Hailstock, who admitted his role in nine contract killings -- were "just telling a tale full of sound and fury. In the government's quest for victory at any cost, they have resurrected these fools."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert R. Harding defended the
prosecution witnesses, who he said took risks to testify against the men. Many of the witnesses testified that the East Baltimore gang routinely took deadly revenge against anyone suspected of cooperating with authorities.
Despite their backgrounds, the witnesses were truthful on the stand, Harding said.
"They were given the maximum incentive to tell the truth," Harding told the jury. "The plea agreements were structured so that they would lose all their incentives if they did not tell the truth."
Given that federal sentences carry no possibility of parole, the sentences against the cooperating witnesses represent hefty jail time. Most who testified said they received sentences of 20 years or more.
Anthony Jones, the 24-year-old alleged ringleader, is not among those on trial. Authorities chose first to prosecute the gang's lieutenants -- among them alleged hit men Darnell "Mookie" Jones, Alan Jett and Jerry "Black Jerry" Williams -- and then put Anthony Jones on trial sometime next year.
Closing arguments will continue today and possibly tomorrow before the jury begins deliberations. Most of the defendants are charged with at least one count of murder in aid of racketeering, meaning they allegedly committed murder as part of a group involved in organized crime.
Harding, in his closing argument, portrayed the men as ruthless followers of Anthony Jones who would devise twisted murder plots to satisfy his orders for revenge. A city police officer, Erick McCrary, who has pleaded guilty, once planned to falsely arrest a rival drug dealer so he could be delivered before Jones.
"But there was a fatal paradox in this organization," Harding told the jury. "They had to let people know about the shootings, and now it has come back to haunt them."
Pub Date: 12/16/97