Anthony Ayeni Jones, the fast-talking drug lord who ruled over one of the most murderous narcotics organizations in Baltimore history, was convicted yesterday of conspiring to kill rivals, federal witnesses, police informants and their mothers.
Jones, who relied on fear to run his $30,000-a-day cocaine and heroin operation, showed no emotion and popped a mint-flavored Lifesaver into his mouth as the verdicts were read in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in what would be the first execution for a federal crime committed in Maryland. The same jury that convicted Jones, 25, after a six-week trial will begin hearing arguments today in the so-called "death phase" of the case.
Jones' organization became so brazen that it enlisted a police officer on its payroll and once attempted to execute an injured rival at Johns Hopkins Hospital by sending in a hit man with a hypodermic. The would-be killer, armed with Drano in the syringe, couldn't get to the intended victim.
Key to the prosecution's attempt to put Jones to death will be not only his role in the murders of more than a dozen people, but also his ability to control accomplices while in prison. Jurors have heard how Jones ordered executions via prison phones while awaiting trial, often instructing his henchmen in a slang code he believed was unbreakable.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamie M. Bennett spent dozens of hours analyzing the tapes, recorded while Jones was held at the federal prison in Allenwood, Pa., to decipher the words Jones used to commission killings.
Translated from a string of seeming nonsense words -- one sentence Jones uttered in early 1997 was "Yergy, I mean the nergy got thergy fergy ergy" -- Bennett told jurors the real meanings behind the slang.
"Yo, that n----- John gotta get whacked tonight," one of the translated messages read. "I ain't lying, we going to have to kill that n-----. Tell them to throw them guns away that they used on Angelo. Or, you know, don't use the same guns on John, you know what I'm saying."
Killed within days of the conversation was Jones' stepbrother, John Jones, who had begun co-operating with police investigating the drug ring's activities. John Jones was found dead Feb. 27 after enforcers stormed into his house in the 1900 block of E. Preston St. and shot him in the head.
The "Angelo" Jones referred to was Angelo Carter, who was shot 11 days before John Jones in an ambush at an East Baltimore carry-out. Carter, who Anthony Jones believed was informing on him, survived numerous bullet wounds.
It took the jury about 11 hours to convict Anthony Jones on charges that included murder in aid of racketeering, kidnapping, attempted murder, retaliating against federal witnesses and drug distribution. Seventeen of his lieutenants have already been convicted.
Anthony Jones' primary motivation in his reign as a drug lord -- he first gained recognition as a player in the Baltimore narcotics world when he was 16 -- was respect, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela R. White.
"You cannot run a drug organization without respect," White told jurors in closing arguments. "He wanted more territory. He wanted more control. He wanted more respect. And he would do jTC anything to obtain it."
Prosecutors outlined nine murders that Jones ordered or committed. Among them was Keith "Shugg" Westmoreland, an East Baltimore drug dealer who fell out of favor with Anthony Jones partly because Westmoreland was selling lesser-grade cocaine on the street.
Jones and one of his most vicious lieutenants, Darnell "Mookie" Jones, went to Westmoreland's home in the 1200 block of N. Gay St. on an October night in 1994 -- each disguised in a mask of a U.S. president. The Joneses, wearing masks of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, shot Westmoreland 12 times, killing him.
The horror stories throughout the trial were endless. Witnesses described how gang members once set fire to a man and another time disposed of a body in a trash barrel with the feet sticking out. Anthony Jones also told enforcers that he wanted the mothers of federal witnesses executed, although none of those instructions were carried out.
His attempts to kill a rival East Baltimore heroin dealer, Elway Williams, went to great lengths: Not only did the gang try to poison him at Johns Hopkins Hospital, but Jones' enforcers dressed up as BGE workers in an attempt to kill him in his house.
Jones' attorneys attempted to convince the jury that many of the killings were committed by gang members who were not acting on his orders.
"This wasn't an organization. This wasn't a criminal enterprise. This was a bunch of guys in East Baltimore running amok," one of Jones' attorneys, Randolph O. Gregory Sr., told the jury.
Jones testified that he had been involved in drug dealing, but not murder. He told the jury that when police found a large amount of gunpowder on his hands after the murder of Westmoreland, it wasn't because he fired a gun. It was because he was cleaning one, he said.
"That night, I was cleaning either a Taurus or 9 mm semiautomatic," Jones testified.
Jones testified that prosecutors did not accurately translate his coded slang in the taped conversations at the prison. But he said he couldn't recall what he intended to say in the messages.
"It's just a slang we use in the neighborhood," Jones told prosecutor Robert R. Harding at one point. "I couldn't tell you what I'm saying when I'm going 'murgie, durgie, burgie, durgie, worgie.' "
Pub Date: 5/28/98