Citing his disadvantaged childhood and other factors, a federal jury ruled yesterday that drug lord and killer Anthony Ayeni Jones will not be executed for running one of the most murderous narcotics rings in Baltimore history.
Jones, as he had throughout his two-month trial, showed no emotion as the sentencing verdicts were read in a packed courtroom in Baltimore's U.S. District Court. A short time earlier he had chatted with his lawyers about basketball superstar Michael Jordan.
The jury of nine women and three men, which convicted Jones May 27 on charges of murder in aid of racketeering, federal witness retaliation and drug dealing, deliberated just 2 1/2 hours in the "death phase" of the case before deciding against execution. Jones will be automatically sentenced to life without parole Aug. 21.
"We're relieved that our client will not be put to death," Harry J. Trainor Jr., one of Jones' lawyers, said outside the courtroom. "The death penalty would not have been a deterrent in this case; in fact, it may have even turned him into a martyr."
Throughout the trial prosecutors portrayed Jones as a ruthless plotter whose gang was responsible for more than a dozen murders, one of which he committed himself while wearing a Ronald Reagan mask. Most of the other killings he arranged through "contracts" in the East Baltimore drug underworld.
Jones was the first criminal facing the possibility of the death penalty for a federal crime in Maryland. But in the end, the jurors decided that Jones' upbringing in a neighborhood beset by poverty, rampant drug abuse and violence contributed to the person he became. They also said they did not believe that Jones, 25, posed a future threat to society while imprisoned at a high-security federal facility.
The question of his being a future danger was key to prosecutors' attempts to put Jones to death. They had repeatedly cited to the jury his cunning ability to order executions of rivals and federal witnesses from prison telephones while awaiting trial, often using a secret language to thwart federal agents.
Seven of the 12 jurors voted in deliberations to support the defense claim that any future danger from Jones is significantly reduced because the government dismantled his $30,000-a-day drug organization. Seventeen of Jones' lieutenants have been convicted.
Ten of the co-conspirators in the organization have pleaded guilty and many have cooperated in the giant federal investigation that brought down the Jones organization. The trial saw at least six admitted murderers take the stand for the prosecution, including New York drug dealer Derrick Hailstock, who confessed to his role in nine killings.
But although many face lengthy prison terms without parole, none faced the death penalty -- a fact that the jury cited in its decision to spare Jones' life.
According to the jury's verdict sheet, a majority of the panel found that "other persons equally culpable in the crimes will not be punished by death" and that other murderers in the organization avoided the death penalty by striking deals with prosecutors.
"It comes down to an issue of relative culpability: Other participants in the crime will not be executed, so why should Anthony Jones?" said Trainor, Jones' lawyer.
For prosecutors, the decision was a mild disappointment. Many pointed to the overall success of the federal investigation, which gutted the once-powerful Jones organization.
The ring had a police officer on its payroll as an enforcer and became so brazen it sent a hit man into Johns Hopkins Hospital to try to execute a rival with a hypodermic filled with Drano.
"We're not pretending that we can wipe out the drug problem," Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamie M. Bennett said in a recent interview about the case. "But what this case shows is that if you stand out as a drug figure, you will be the target of a federal drug investigation and you will go away for a long time."
Federal prosecution is generally considered much stiffer because the sentences carry no possibility of parole. Also, federal sentencing guidelines usually carry lengthier sentences than corresponding state statutes.
Lynne A. Battaglia, the U.S. attorney for Maryland, said yesterday that she felt the jury had done its job.
"We believe that the jurors in this case conscientiously applied themselves to the decision before them and rendered the verdict they believed was just," Battaglia said.
As has been the case throughout the trial, the jurors were whisked away from the courthouse yesterday in a pair of white vans with black-tinted windows driven by federal marshals. Because of the heightened fear over retaliation in the case, the jurors' names have been kept secret for their safety.
The jury would meet every morning at a secret location to be driven to the courthouse by security personnel, chiefly to protect them from possible tampering or intimidation.
Defense attorneys said Jones will likely be placed at a high-security federal penitentiary in Florence, Colo., where he will be allowed out of his cell for only one hour per day. Among the inmates there are former New York crime boss John Gotti and Unabomber Theodore J. Kaczynski.
Pub Date: 6/09/98