The retrial on a federal handgun charge of Melvin "Little Melvin" Williams -- who once presided over a heroin-dealing empire that employed 200 street-level dealers -- began yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore with brief opening statements by a prosecutor and Williams' lawyer.
Williams' first trial on the charge of felony possession of a firearm ended in September in a mistrial when jurors were unable to reach a verdict.
Assistant U.S. Attorney James M. Webster III told the jury of nine women and three men that Williams in March repeatedly "pistol-whipped" a man on a southwest Baltimore street corner over a $500 debt.
But Williams' attorney, Michael E. Marr, said that the only two witnesses who claimed to have seen Williams with a gun in his hand had motives to lie, adding, "There is no way the evidence will show this man had hold of a firearm."
Under federal law, it is illegal for anyone who has been convicted of a major crime to have a firearm. The charge carries a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.
At the time of the alleged incident, Williams, 58, was on parole from a 24-year federal heroin trafficking sentence he received in 1984.