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Suspected D.C. drug kingpin to represent himself at retrial

By Ann Marimow,

A suspected D.C. drug kingpin and former nightclub owner rejected a government plea deal Thursday and will take the unusual step of representing himself in his third trial, which is scheduled to begin next week in the District’s federal court.

Antoine Jones, whose conviction and life sentence were reversed by the Supreme Court last year, told a judge that he could not overcome strategic differences with his court-appointed attorney about how to present his case to a jury.

“If my lawyer doesn’t have any trust or confidence in me, I’d rather go by myself,” he said.

U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle appeared visibly pained, rubbing her head with her hands as she announced her decision to allow Jones to serve as his own attorney. It will be the first time in her more than 20 years on the bench that a defendant in her courtroom will represent himself in a criminal case, she said.

Huvelle said that Jones’s choice was “much to my regret and against my advice” and said she was convinced that he understands that his decision is “against his interest.”

Jones has been in prison since 2005, when law enforcement officials busted what they said was a major drug-trafficking ring with ties to Mexico. The jury in Jones’s first trial deadlocked.

After a second trial, the Supreme Court reversed his conviction, ruling that Jones’s rights had been violated when law enforcement officials attached a tracking device to his vehicle without a warrant and monitored his movements for 28 days.

On Wednesday, federal prosecutors disclosed that they had offered Jones a plea deal that could have resulted in his serving as little as eight more years in prison. Jones would have had to plead guilty to conspiracy.

The Supreme Court’s decision threw out the Global Positioning System evidence prosecutors said linked Jones to a Fort Washington stash house where law enforcement officials found nearly $1 million in cash and almost 100 kilos of cocaine. But the government is expected to present other evidence that links Jones to the house and to play for the trial jury recordings, obtained using wiretaps, that include talk of “tickets” prosecutors have said was code for cocaine.

In court Thursday, Jones told the judge that he was not interested in a deal unless prosecutors could guarantee a 15-year sentence with credit for time served. If not, he said, he was ready to go to trial and represent himself.

Before agreeing to Jones’s request, Huvelle quizzed him and warned him about the implications. Jones, who is 53, is not trained as a lawyer, and the pitfalls, she said, are clear.

“It’s a form of something just short of shooting yourself in the foot,” Huvelle said. “You understand that you’re going to be on your own? It is not my job to protect you.”

Huvelle appointed Jones’s two former attorneys — Jeffrey O’Toole and Errin Scialpi — to provide guidance during his trial, which could last more than a month. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

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