After speaking privately with homicide detectives investigating the death of the girlfriend of a man charged with dealing heroin, a judge ordered that the man be released to a Baltimore halfway house while awaiting trial on federal drug charges.
But federal prosecutors immediately appealed the ruling, effectively blocking the release of Jermarl A. Jones before a U.S. district judge conducts another hearing next week.
The decision came at the end of a detention hearing during which a deputy U.S. marshal detailed his nearly seven-month search for Jones and the ways he believed Jones and his girlfriend attempted to evade authorities hunting for him.
Jones, 31, of Hyattsville was arrested last month on a year-old federal indictment that charged him with conspiring to sell heroin. He was released Jan. 5 from federal custody to await trial.
But after Jones failed to check in with pretrial services officials, another federal judge issued a warrant for his arrest Tuesday - a day after the body of Jones' longtime girlfriend, Sintia Mesa, was found in the trunk of her car in the parking lot of a Northwest Baltimore apartment complex. City police have said that the 25-year-old salon employee was killed by asphyxiation.
Prosecutor Philip S. Jackson told the magistrate judge overseeing yesterday's detention hearing that Mesa's death has "all the markings" of a drug-related killing and asked that Jones be held in federal custody while awaiting trial.
"The defendant is a danger to the community, either as a murderer or as someone who is still involved in narcotics," he said.
But defense attorney Stanley H. Needleman countered that city homicide detectives have told him that Jones is neither a target nor a suspect in their investigation. He also told the judge that his client, a music producer and the manager for a local rap musician, was in New York on business when Mesa was reported missing.
"Here's the ugly innuendo staring Mr. Jones and I in the face: Is he not being asked to account for Ms. Mesa's death?" Needleman asked. "Is that not why we're here? Because of [his] milieu, that's why she was killed?"
U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey took a brief recess before announcing her decision to call the detectives investigating Mesa's death.
She heard from Mark Frederick, a deputy U.S. marshal, who described the way Mesa and some of her female friends frequently swapped vehicles in an attempt to evade authorities trying to arrest Jones on the drug charges.
He told the judge that Jones - who goes by the street name "Marty" - apparently also made arrangements for staff members at the hotels where he stayed to alert him if law enforcement officials came asking for him.
In making her decision, the judge said that there was no new evidence that Jones would flee rather than report to court for trial, which is scheduled in March. She also said she did not think he was a danger to the community - although she said she was concerned about his safety.
Gauvey ordered that Jones be released to a Volunteers of America Community Confinement Center in Baltimore.
U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake, who is presiding over Jones' federal drug case, is expected to schedule a detention hearing next week to consider prosecutors' appeal of Gauvey's decision.