Jury deliberations in the bribery and conspiracy retrial of Dominic F. Antonelli Jr. and Joseph P. Yeldell began this afternoon after government and defense attorneys made a series of final pleas laden with sarcasm, indignation and biblical references.
The jurors considered the complex testimony and scores of documents in the case for about two and a half hours. Then, at 6:30 p.m., U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell sent the group to the suburban motel where they have been staying since they were empaneled last week.
Antonelli, the shy multimillionaire who has remained aloof from everyone but his attorneys during the 10-day trial, sat motionless throughout more than four hours of these arguments, listening as prosecutors characterized him as a canny conspirator, while his own attorney compared him to the Good Smaritan.
A few feet away, Yeldell, the former D.C. Human Resources chief who was once one of the most powerful politicians in the District of Columbia government, shifted constantly in his chair, first resting his head on his hand, then crossing his arms and looking at the jury, then cupping his chin in his hand.
Before them and about 80 other spectators crowded into the third-floor courtroom of the U.S. District Court here, a grand display of legal theatrics was unfolding.
Here was Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard L. Beizer, eyebrows furrowed in disbelief, asking the eight women and four men in the jury box if they really thought there was no connection between Antonelli's $33,000 secret loan to Yeldell and the efforts of the then-DHR director to take out on behalf of the city a lease on a building owned by Antonelli.
"From the defense version of the case, one gets the idea there were two Nick Antonellis and two Joe Yeldells; one Nick Antonelli and one Joe Yeldell dealing with each other about leasing problems, and the others . . . dealing about personal finances," he said.
"Maybe a machine can be programmed to deal with one task and then flip a switch and it does another," Beizer asserted. "But we're talking about human beings," Beizer went on, his voice rising from a near-whisper to a near-shout.
When Edward Bennett Williams, Antonelli's attorney, took his turn, he tried to turn Beizer's sarcasm against him, describing Beizer and his fellow prosecutors as cynics who were twisting a simple act of friendship into an element of a sinister plot.
" . . . It strikes me as a terribly, tragically ironic thing that the government in the City of Brotherly Love is asking you to find a man guilty of a criminal conspiracy and a bribe because he reached out to help a friend," Williams told the jury.
Later, referring to the $33,000 loan that Antonelli provided Yeldell through a fictitious intermediary, Williams noted, "If it was a bribe, it was the first bribe in the history of the law [the recipient] started to pay back the next month."
During the rest of his free-wheeling summation, Williams stressed several facts that he described as crucial:
That Antonelli had given loans or signed loan guarantees worth more than $1 million for dozens of people besides Yeldell.
That Antonelli's $5.6 million, 20-year lease proposal for the rundown, two-story building at 60 Florida Ave. NE -- a lease proposal which then-mayor Walter E. Washington eventually signed on June 9, 1976 -- was a good deal for the District.
That Antonelli's decision to lend Yeldell $53,000 by taking a second mortgage on Yeldell's home made good business sense. Before that time, Antonelli was the guarantor of Yeldell's unsecured $21,500 loan at the Madison National Bank. With the new loan, Yeldell paid off the earlier debt and Antonelli was assured of security for his money.
On the prosecution side, first Beizer, then Assistant U.S. Attorney Henry F. Scheulke III, stressed the coincidences in the timing of Antonelli's negotiations in late 1975 for the purchase of the Florida Avenue property, his simultaneous negotiations for a District government lease and his decision in early 1976 to lend money to Yeldell who had just been given the authority to arrange leases for his large government department.