U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens and lawyers for Mayor Marion Barry yesterday did not appear close to reaching a plea agreement, according to sources familiar with the case.
Although the sources said that negotiations are continuing, it was likely that jury selection in the case would start as scheduled tomorrow.
The issue dividing the two sides is a major one, sources said. Barry has told Stephens through his lawyers that he would be open to a guilty plea to several misdemeanor cocaine possession charges in return for prosecutors' agreeing to drop the remaining charges and the related investigation of the mayor that is continuing.
Stephens is unwilling to agree to either suggestion, standing pat on his initial position, which would require Barry to plead guilty to at least one felony perjury charge, sources said.
If Barry were convicted of a felony, he almost certainly would receive a prison sentence under federal guidelines. If he were sent to prison, Barry would no longer be eligible to serve as mayor.
Sources close to the mayor said yesterday that Barry would not agree to plead guilty to a felony.
"That's his bottom-line position," said one Barry associate.
Various media organizations have reported that Barry has been asked to resign or agree not to seek reelection as a condition of a plea to misdemeanors, but Stephens said in a prepared statement that those reports are false.
"Mr. Barry's resignation is irrelevant to the prosecution of this case," Stephens said Friday night through his press spokeswoman, Judy Smith.
Barry is facing a 14-count indictment that alleges three counts of perjury, 10 counts of cocaine possession and one count of conspiracy to possess cocaine.
The plea negotiations have been complicated by the federal sentencing guidelines, which deprive judges of most of their discretion in choosing between prison sentences and various forms of probation. For example, former presidential adviser Michael K. Deaver was convicted in 1988 of lying to a grand jury and lying to Congress, but received no prison term.
In that case, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson -- who is also overseeing the Barry case -- used his discretion to place Deaver on probation, fine him $100,000 and order him to perform 1,500 hours of community service. Deaver's crimes were committed before the sentencing guidelines took effect.
Under the new guidelines, if Barry goes to trial and is convicted on all counts or any combination of them, his range of sentences would be 12 to 18 months. If he is convicted only of perjury, he would face a sentencing range of 10 to 16 months; if convicted only of the misdemeanors, his sentence would range from probation to six months.
However, sources said, the lawyers have noted that if Barry went forward with his trial and were convicted sometime in late July, he probably would not be sentenced until late September. Even then, the lawyers have said, it would be possible for Jackson to allow the mayor to remain free pending an appeal, which could take a year or more.
Those calculations are important for Barry, sources said, because although he could face a longer sentence if convicted on all counts, he could substantially forestall any prison sentence.