During the last days of his bribery conspiracy trial, Joseph P. Yeldell examined a document that Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Beizer wanted back. When the prosecutor asked for it, Yeldell faced the side of the court-room where his supporters were seated.
"I have it here," he said calmly. "Exhibit V as in victory."
Despite what defense lawyer Edward Bennett Williams later called a "hammering cross-examination" by Beizer, Yeldell had again shown the confidence that has endeared him to his supporters.
"Did you hear that"? a joyous Freddie Clark whispered. "Victory." She had been an aide to Yeldell when he headed the Department of Human Resources. The other people in her row, also former Yeldell subordinates, blushed and nodded their heads postively.
But others who had worked under Yeldell felt that the results of the September mayoral primary had made the trial's outcome a forgone conclusion.
"Mr. Yeldell used to be up there on the third floor," an elderly woman who operates an elevator in the Munsey Building said sadly last week. "But it seems like they're moving him out."
Shortly after the guilty verdicts were returned yesterday against Yeldell and millionaire Dominic Antonelli, the telephones in virtually every DHR office rang with the news. "I feel hurt," one secretary said after hanging up.
"This is unbelievable," and administrative officer said as he entered the office of Charles Baron, DHR's legal counsel. "How can they convict a man for hocking his house to obtain a loan?"
Baron was dumbfounded. "What puzzles me is how they could return a verdict in a conspiracy case after only three hours of deliberation? There were about 300 pieces of evidence to sift through."
The other DHR official had an answer. "Well, I'm told that some of the jurors were twisting their slips and rolling their eyes throughout the trial like they had their minds up already."
Shaking his head disappointedly, the man continued, "It seems to me that it was a case of the haves against the have-nots. The jurors couldn't accept the fact that Joe was able to get a $33,000 loan. I told (another city official) that I hoped Joe hadn't kicked any of the jurors off the welfare rolls because it would be trouble for him."
Long before the trial had ended, the desks, tables, chairs and sofas had been carted out of Yeldell's suite of offices in the National Theater overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue.
His affable secretary used to connect waiting telephone callers with a portable radio playing rock and soul on WOOK-FM. But now the phones have been disconnected.
"The mission was accomplished," said Herb Barksdale, an aide and confidant to Yeldell. "Keep Joe Yeldell inactive so he wasn't involved in the mayor's campaign. They knew he was the most politically knowledgeable man and that chances were good that the mayor would be reelected if Joe had been allowed to be active."
At 46, Joseph P. Yeldell had fought and scrapped his way out of poverty in his hometwon, Washington D.C., to become one of the most powerful men in city government. His trademark was never to back down in public, although friends say he could be soft hearted and good humored when the spotlight shone elsewhere.
As head of the mammoth DHR, Yeldell had control over hundreds of jobs, and the people he appointed included many of his loyal long-time supporters.
But many who had never personally benefited from his actions admired Yeldell, too - for his macho style, they said, and for his willingness to stand up to congressional investigators probabing his department. Some Yeldell backers have also argued that the campaign against him was partly instigated by whites trying to take over the city.
Shortly before his indictment last April, Yeldell, addressing a packed congregation at Turner Memorial Church, accused the news media of having a "vendetta" against him and engaging in "reckless," libelous and yellow journalism at its worst."
The crowd roard and in a manner reminiscent of early civil rights rallies, began chanting "We Shll Overcome."
The day after the September mayoral primary, when it was clear that Walter Washington had lost, uncertainity and some disappointment rippled through DHR offices. Throughout the campaign, Marion Barry had promised to replace several department heads, possibly including Albert P. Russo, Yeldell's successor.
It was generally felt that if Mayor Washington was reelected, then Yeldell - regardless of the outcome of his trial - would eventually make a dramatic comeback to city government.
Yeldell spent 2 1/2 days on the witness stand before U.S. District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell.
"This is ridiculous," whispered Carol Payne, a former aide to Yeldell when a prosecutor questioned Yeldell about migraine headaches and his personal financial plight.
"They're grabbing at straws," Freddie Clark said. "How could they do sucha thing to a man as nice and kind as Joseph Yeldell."