The federal bribery and conspiracy trial of D.C. mayoral aide Joseph P. Yeldell and millionaire developer Dominic F. Antonelli Jr. drew to a close yesterday amid courtroom rhetoric marked by a biblical parable, bitting sarcasm and appeals for justice and common sense.
Antonelli, 56, a real estate developer and parking company owner, was praised by his chief defense lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams, as a "good Samaritan" who had only sought to help his financially troubled friend, Yeldell. Waving a Bible in his hand, Williams told the jury that Antonelli had followed the New Testament exhortation "to help your neighbor, your brother, when he's in trouble."
Antonelli was assailed by a federal prosecutor, Richard L. Beizer, who labeled him a "$20 million man" and accused him of corruptly plotting with Yeldell for the two men's mutual benefit. Antonelli had previously acknowledged in court testimony that his personal net worth exceeds $20 million. At one point, Beizer raised both arms above his head while describing Antonelli's and Yeldell's allegedly corrupt ties.
Yeldell, 46, the former head of the city's Departmental of Human Resources, was lambasted by another prosecutor, Henry F. Schuelke III, nor having repeatedly told what the prosecutor described as "bald, outright, intentional lies." Again and again yesterday, the prosecution cited instances in which Yeldell's court testimony had contradicted testimony by other witnesses and statements Yeldell had made during a tape-recorded interview last year with city auditors who were investigating his dealings with Antonelli.
Yeldell, who is on unpaid leave from his most recent job as a top aide to Mayor Walter E. Washington, was defended by his trial lawyer, John A. Shorter JR., who denounced the prosecution's allegations as "fantasy," "speculation," "conjecture" and "guesswork." Shorter portrayed Yeldell as an honest man who has "from month one down to the present time" been making regular monthly payments on a loan he received from Antonelli. The prosecution has characterized the secret $33,000 loan as a bribe.
The vehement charges and countercharges yesterday occurred in a crowded federal courtroom as the prosecution and defense lawyers gave their closing arguments in trial that has been under way since Oct.6. The U.S. District Court jury - an all-black panel of nine women and three men - is expected to begin weighing its verdict this morning after receiving final legal instructions from U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell.
Antonelli and Yeldell maintained largely impassive expressions as they listened to the seven hours of frequently caustic arguments. At times, Yeldell appeared to glare at the prosecutors. Yeldell's wife, Gladys, was in the courtroom audience, as she has been for a number of days. Antonelli's family is believed not to have attended that trial.
The prosecution and defense teams voiced their conflicting contentions is widely disparate rhetorical rhythms. Williams spoke in loud and measured tones, marked by dramatic pauses, as he paced about the courtroom. Shorter appealed to the jury in a soft but firm voice, seldom moving from where he stood. Beizer punctuated his detailed account of the bribery and conspiracy allegations, calling off "contradiction number one" and "hurdle number three." Schuelke spoke rapidly in a voice ringing with sarcasm, often mimicking Yeldell's and Antonelli's own statements.