The Washington Post

Accused D.C. dealer launches his own defense at trial

Punctuating his assertion that the drug conspiracy indictment against him was “nothing but a formal charge,” Antoine Jones tore the document to pieces in front of jurors Monday in D.C. federal court. Then the accused drug dealer, who has taken the unusual step of representing himself in the high-profile case, began addressing the government’s evidence against him piece by piece, urging jurors to scrutinize intensely prosecutors’ witnesses and question why there are no surveillance images showing him selling cocaine.

“This is what we gonna do with this indictment,” he said, setting the ripped pages on a table beside him, “and we gonna talk about this case.”

Monday was the second day of Jones’s trial, though it provided the first opportunity for him to address jurors directly in his opening statement. He pleaded that those jurors consider him innocent “until this government prove me guilty” and asked them to be sympathetic as he navigated the perils of serving as his own lawyer.

“This is my first time ever doing something like this,” he said. “I’m fighting for my life.”

On Friday, Jones, 53, had listened patiently, taking copious notes, as prosecutors laid out their case against him. He is accused of funneling hundreds of kilograms of cocaine into the Washington area from Mexico, storing the drugs in Prince George’s County and elsewhere.

When FBI agents eventually moved in on Jones’s operation in October 2005, prosecutors said, they seized 97 kilograms of cocaine from one stash house alone.

In his opening, Jones focused largely on attacking the credibility of four witnesses prosecutors are expected to call who worked with Jones in the drug trade and took plea deals to testify against him. Jones suggested that those plea deals played a role in eliciting their testimony, saying of one witness, “You gonna have a man who bought a lot of drugs, who sold a lot of drugs, who went home.”

Dressed in a yellow-orange dress shirt, having taken off his suit jacket when he came into court, Jones spoke loudly and clearly. Only once did he stumble during his opening argument, pausing at length and gesturing with his hands as he tried to recall the name of a witness in the case. A prosecutor gently called out the name, and Jones continued.

As witnesses began taking the stand, though, the trial had several awkward moments. Jones objected frequently during the testimony of an FBI agent, usually after an attorney appointed by the court to help him whispered in his ear. U.S. District Court Judge Ellen S. Huvelle at one point dismissed the jury to complain of the practice.

“I don’t think it’s going to work with you feeding him all the objections and telling him what to say,” Huvelle told Jeffrey O’Toole, the court-appointed lawyer.

O’Toole argued that he was not appointed “simply to be sitting here,” and Huvelle later told him he could continue to advise Jones on objections.

Huvelle also rejected Jones’s request to eat something for lunch other than bologna sandwiches, saying U.S. marshals could not offer him anything else.

Jones has been in jail since FBI agents broke up the alleged drug operation in 2005, and this is his third trial. His first trial ended with the jury deadlocked. The Supreme Court reversed a conviction from the second trial, saying that Jones’s rights were violated when law enforcement officials attached a tracking device to his vehicle without a warrant.

Jones rejected a government plea offer that might have allowed him to serve as few as eight more years behind bars.

In this trial, prosecutors are seeking to connect Jones to a Fort Washington stash house and drugs without evidence from the tracking device. Before lunch Monday, jurors heard testimony from an FBI agent investigating the case and listened to several strange phone calls between Jones and men who prosecutors say worked with him in the drug trade. Some of the phone calls were just seconds long, with Jones saying only “five minutes” or “ten minutes” before hanging up. Prosecutors say he was arranging meetings with his cocaine suppliers. On other calls, Jones discussed “music” in bizarre and confusing ways. Prosecutors say he was using it as a code word for cocaine.

Mostly referring to himself in the third person, Jones aggressively questioned FBI agent Kellie O’Brien about why he wasn’t clearly visible in surveillance pictures from the stash house and why — given that investigators were listening to his phone calls — he was not arrested sooner. As Jones talked to O’Brien about the surveillance images — seeming to dispute that she had seen him in person when they were taken — Huvelle warned him, “You can only ask her questions. You can’t argue with her.”

The warning did not deter Jones’s fervor. At one point, he asked O’Brien whether she was near-sighted or far-sighted. At another, he essentially listed the government’s evidence against him — surveillance, cell tower data, confidential sources — and exclaimed, “How much do you need to arrest Mr. Jones?”

Jones’s trial is expected to last several weeks, and testimony resumes at 1:45.

This post has been updated.

Matt Zapotosky covers the federal district courthouse in Alexandria, where he tries to break news from a windowless office in which he is not allowed to bring his cell phone.


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