U.S. District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell left the strong impression yesterday that he may grant a defense motion to move the retrial of former D. C. Human Resources Department director Joseph P. Yeldell and parking magnate Dominic Antonelli Jr. to another city.
Although Gesell stopped short of granting the defense request, his comments druing as 45-minute hearing yesterday indicated that he felt the two defendants could not get a fair trial if it were held again in the Washington metropolitan area.
Gesell referred at one point in the hearing to an "almost continuous drumbeat of media attention, that surrounded the first trial. Gesell made the statement as he addressed questions to Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard L. Beizer, the chief prosecutor in the case.
The judge said he would issue his ruling on the defense motion "in a few days."
Yeldell and Antonelli were each convicted of two counts of bribery and conspiracy on Oct. 24 following a three-week trial that received heavy attention from newspaper, radio and television stations.
Gesell set the convictions aside on Nov. 22 after defense lawyers disclosed that one juror had failed to reveal that her father had been fired by Antonelli's parking lot company, Parking Management Inc. The U.S. Court of Appeals subsequently upheld Geseel's decision.
Antonelli's lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams, told Gesell yesterday that the defendants could not get a fair trial in this area now because ht coverage of the first trial and trial and references to the convictions of the two men had left an "indelible" impression on the community.
Any prospective juror aware of the convictions in the first trial would have to be excused, Williams said. So many jurors would eventually be excused that the jury would not be representative of a cross section of the community as U.S. Supreme Court decisions require, Williams said.
During the hearings, Gesell himself began a discussion with Williams about possible locations for thr re-trail. Gesell ruled out Baltimore because of its proximity to Washington and because "recent cases tried in Baltimore don't creat the happiest atmosphere for trying a bribery trial." Former Maryland governor Marvin Mandel and five other defendants were convicted of mail fraud and racketeering in Baltimore in 1977. Those convictions were later overturned by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeal. Gesell suggested Philadelphia, Norfolf and Richmond as likely places for a new trial. Williams added New York to the list.
When prosecutor Beizer cited the refusal of U.S. District Court Judge John J. Sirica to grant a defense motion to move the Watergate cover-up trial to another city in 1974, Gezell told Beizer that the Yeldell-Antonelli situation was different. In the Watergate case, Gesell said, prospective jurors would have known about the case no matter whre it was tried. "There are jurisdictions where no one has ever heard of Mr. Yeldell or Mr. Antonelli, let alone this case," Gesell said.