The retrial of Dominic F. Antonelli Jr and Joseph P. Yeldell opens today in U.S. District Court here, far removed from Washington's dual worlds of politics and finance, where the District government's biggest scandal was born.
In many ways the script remains the same: prosecutors will try to prove the two men conspired in the allegedly corrupt award of a $5.6 million city government lease; defense attorneys will counter that there was no conspiracy, only coincidence.
In the 11 months since the first trial began, the scenery of this long-running drama has been irrevocably altered.
The government of Mayor Walter Washington, in which Joe Yeldell played such a dominant role, has been voted out of office. Some of Washington's supporters said the allegations against Yeldell and Antonelli were an important factor in the mayor's defeat a year ago.
And while he adjusts to life out of political power, Yeldell, 47, must also cope with large legal debts. The treasurer of his defense fund said last week that the fund was depleted. Once the director of the District government's largest agency, the Department of Human Resources, Yeldell has taken a job as a property manager for a firm owned by Theodore Hagans, a well-to-do businessman and longtime Yeldell supporter.
Antonelli has not faced such adjustments. A self-made multimillionaire who presides over a local real estate and parking lot empire, as well as other business concerns as far away as Panama, the 57-year-old magnate has been going about his business in his normal fashion. That is to say: working 14 hours a day and taking pains to avoid publicity.
"Obviously, the trial has got to be a factor that he has to think about and consider -- but he hasn't shown any evidence that this bothers him," said R. Robert Linowes, a local attorney and friend of Antonelli's. "He seems to be going about things the same way as he has all along."
Yeldell's attorney, John A. Shorter Jr., said of his client, "He's hopeful. He seems to be in good spirits. He isn't dancing up and down, you understand . . . . But he's standing up."
While the case is still a central event in the lives of these two men, who were convicted last Oct. 24 and then saw that conviction overturned a month later, the audience has thinned and the spotlight has dimmed.
The case still evokes comment around the District Building and in business offices around town. But an election, a near-blizzard and a near-hurricane have passed since the first trial. The case has more to do with Washington's past than its present.
Moreover, a second trial presents the prosecutors and defense attorneys with different tasks than they faced in the first round.
"A trial the second time around isn't much damn fun," said one attorney familiar with the case who has been involved in retrials.
This is especially true for the prosecution. In the last trial, Asst. U.S. Attorneys Richard L. Beizer, Henry F. Schuelke and Michael Lehr wove their case out of the testimony of bureaucrats, businessmen, bankers and experts in the arcane business of calculating the costs of leases.
This testimony, combined with documents, was designed to prove that Yeldell arranged to have his department sign the $5.6 million, 20-year lease on a large two-story building at 60 Florida Avenue NE that was owned by a partnership controlled by Antonelli.
In return for Yeldell's help in securing the lease, Antonelli was found by the jury in the first trial to have secretly given Yeldell a $33,000 personal loan after helping Yeldell obtain a series of short-term loans, initially amounting to $21,500, from the Madison National Bank. Antonelli was a founder, major stockholder and director of that bank.
The prosecutors now are faced with presenting virtually the same case, while Shorter and Antonelli's attorney, Edward Bennett Williams -- widely regarded as one of the most skillful criminal attorneys in the profession -- have had months to look for weaknesses in their opponents' strategy.
"It's pretty simple -- you try to repeat things that worked and not repeat the things that didn't work," said Barnet D. Skolnik, a former assistant U.S. attorney, now in private practice, who prosecuted the conspiracy case against former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel.
"Prosecutors can't count on scoring nearly as many points as they did the first time," Skolnik said. For instance, he said, a defense attorney who found his client's testimony sullied by some unfavorable information brought out during the prosecution's cross-examination now has the opportunity to bring that information out himself -- and put the best light on it.
"You can pull the teeth of problem areas by bringing them out in a benign light on cross-examination," Skolnik said.
During the first trial, Yeldell, who gave a forceful, impressive performance when questioned by his own attorney, began to fade into contradictions and forgetfulness under a hammering cross-examination.
The memory of this performance led several observers to question whether Yeldell would take the stand in his own defense during the retrial.
If Shorter chooses to present a full defense against the prosecution's allegations, Yeldell's explanation of his actions would appear to be crucial.
It is also unclear whether Antonelli will take the stand again. In the first trial, Antonelli asserted repeatedly that his financial assistance to Yeldell was nothing more than a product of their friendship, and that he never sought and never received any favors from the District government official in return.
Barring any surprising new evidence, most of the other open questions are all matters of nuance: Will any of the earlier testimony be scrapped? Will an expert witness approach his subject differently? Will the defense attorneys repeat certain requests they made of presiding Judge Gerhard A. Gesell in the first trial?
For the rest, while the small, modern courtroom in Philadelphia will provide the retrial with a new setting, and the jurors will provide the attorneys with a new audience, almost all the actors will be the same: attorneys, judge, defendants, and the stenographer.
Gesell agreed to transfer the retrial to Philadelphia because of the first trial's widespread publicity in Washington. As was the case in the first trial, the jury will be sequestered. In one change, Gesell is scheduling the trial six days a week instead of just weekdays.
If convicted a second time on both counts against them, the two men face 20 years imprisonment and perhaps as much as $109,000 in fines.
The retrial was ordered after it was disclosed that a juror who had voted for conviction had intentionally withheld information that might have led defense lawyers to exclude her from the jury.