D.C. mayoral candidate Walter E. Fauntroy called on Mayor Marion Barry yesterday to negotiate a plea agreement with U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens to avoid an "unnecessarily destructive" trial and a "circus" of international media attention.
"There are typewriters and video recorders poised all over the world to unleash a thunderous assault on the character, the integrity and the self-worth of the citizens of the District of Columbia," said Fauntroy, who is giving up his delegate's seat in Congress to run for mayor.
Fauntroy's remarks, which drew no immediate reaction from Barry or Stephens, came amid conflicting indications about possible plea negotiations. Barry is scheduled to go to trial on Monday on charges of lying under oath to a grand jury and cocaine possession.
A close associate of Barry's told The Washington Post that some talks had taken place, but it was unclear whether a plea offer had been made.
Additionally, the Associated Press, quoting a confidant of the mayor's, said Barry's lawyer, R. Kenneth Mundy, had started talks about a possible plea last week.
The AP account could not be confirmed. Officials in the U.S. Attorney's Office said Richard W. Roberts and Judith Retchin, the federal prosecutors who are scheduled to try the Barry case, appeared to be working overtime to prepare for the start of jury selection on Monday.
According to sources close to Stephens, the U.S. attorney was expected to formulate the terms of a plea offer, one that could have been extended as early as yesterday.
That offer would have coincided with delivery to the defense of a prosecution witness list and transcripts of witnesses' statements to investigators and testimony before the grand jury.
The Post reported Tuesday that initially, both sides appeared to be far apart as they approached the prospect of plea negotiations, with Stephens insisting that Barry plead guilty to at least one count of perjury, which is a felony, and the mayor open only to the possibility of pleading to a misdemeanor.
The distinction is important because federal guidelines would allow U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson to place Barry on probation if he were convicted only of a misdemeanor, while a felony plea usually would require a prison sentence.
At a campaign appearance last month, Fauntroy told reporters that he hoped Barry's trial could be avoided, a sentiment he said he had expressed to the mayor in private after the second round of indictments against Barry were issued by a federal grand jury on May 10.
In his statement yesterday, which was worded more strongly than his earlier remarks, Fauntroy urged Barry and Stephens to "carefully weigh the damage that this spectacle will cause and make the decision to spare the people of the District this trial."
Referring to the witnesses who could be called by the U.S. government to testify about the mayor's alleged drug use, Fauntroy said: "I do not want to know the times and the places and the acts to which they are going to testify. I do not want the world to know that."
Fauntroy, the D.C. delegate for 19 years, joined the crowded field in the Democratic mayoral primary in March, when Barry was in South Carolina undergoing a second round of addiction treatment. After an initial burst of publicity, Fauntroy's candidacy seemed to flag as he put together a campaign organization and displayed unfamiliarity with some city issues in candidate forums.
In an unrelated development yesterday, a group of longtime Barry supporters said they had petitioned the United Nations to send an observer to the mayor's trial because of what they described as a racially motivated assault on Barry's human rights.
Former Maryland state senator Clarence M. Mitchell III, of Baltimore, who served more than a year in federal prison for trying to impede a congressional investigation, said Stephens's office improperly entrapped Barry in the Jan. 18 sting operation that resulted in the mayor's arrest at the Vista Hotel.
"I say to you that the government should not be in the business of committing crime to manufacture crime," Mitchell said.
Judy Smith, a spokeswoman for Stephens, said last night that prosecutors had filed a motion asking the judge to prevent defense lawyers from attacking the government and its investigative tactics. The motion, which Jackson could rule on today, is an attempt to preempt an expected defense based on alleged prosecutorial misconduct, Smith said.
Jackson ruled on a similar motion last week when he rejected a defense request to dismiss the charges against Barry on the grounds of alleged impermissible government conduct.