A federal judge yesterday ordered the retrial of former D.C. mayoral aide Joseph P. Yeldell and millionaire developer Dominic F. Antonelli Jr. transferred to Philadelphia because of widespread publicity surrounding the two men's previous convictions here.
In rejecting prosecutors' arguments that the second trail should take place in Washington, U.S. District Court Judge Gerhard A. Gesell said that "no practical precaution could be taken before any retrial [here] that would prevent prospective jurors from learning of the prior conviction" of Yeldell and Antonelli.
"Once learned, such an inherently prejudicial fact would be of the kind which even a conscientious [juror] would find hard to put out of his or her mind," Gesell added.
Antonelli, a real estate investor and parking company owner, and Yeldell, a top aide to former mayor Walter E. Washington now employed by a local real estate management firm, were convicted of bribery and conspiracy charges last October. Antonelli was accused of helping to arrange loans, including a secret $33,000 personal loan, to Yeldell in exchange for Yeldell's assistance in securing an allegedly lucrative D.C. government lease for a partnership controlled by Antonelli.
Gesell later set aside the two men's convictions and ordered a new trial after ruling that a juror had improperly failed to divulge that she once had a small checking account at a bank founded by Antonelli. Gesell's retrial order was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals here last month.
In his order yesterday, Gesell did not set a date for the second Yeldell-Antonelli trial, but he said, "The number of judges available and the state of the docket in that (Eastern) District (of Pennsylvania) should assure a very prompt trial." It was uncertain yesterday whether Gesell would preside at the new trial or whether it would be assigned to another federal judge.
Gesell's ruling yesterday had been expected after a hearing last week in which the judge left the strong impression that he would grant Yeldell's and Antonelli's request to transfer their second trial to another city.
In yesterday's order, Gesell largely accepted two key arguments made by Yeldell's and Antonelli's lawyers. One of these contentions was that Yeldell and Antonelli could not get a fair retrial here because extensive news coverage of their first trial had left an "indelible" impression on the community.
A second defense argument was that any jury assembled in Washington would not be representative of a cross-section of the population. The attorneys contended that a large number of prospective jurors would have to be excused as a result of the first trial's publicity and objections by some jurors to being sequestered during the retrial. Gesell said it was "at least doubtful" that a constitutionally representative jury could be chosen here.
Gesell rejected prosecutors' arguments that cited Judge John J. Sirica's refusal to move the Watergate cover-up trial out of Washington in 1974. Gesell said that publicity surrounding the Yeldell-Antonelli trial had been "purely local," in contrast to the national attention that was focused on the Watergate trial.