A somber D.C. Mayor Marion Barry strode into U.S. District Court yesterday and began his trial on perjury and drug charges with a first glimpse of 250 of the potential jurors who may consider the federal government's case against him.
With no progress reported in negotiations over a possible plea agreement, Barry entered Courtroom 2 of the federal courthouse, accompanied by his wife and mother, and carefully watched with his two lawyers as prospective jurors rose one by one when their names were called from a roll.
Although media attention outside the courtroom was extraordinary, with dozens of reporters and television crews on hand to record Barry's arrival, inside the morning's schedule generally was routine, as Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson swore the potential jurors to tell the truth and to avoid all news accounts of the mayor's trial.
Showing signs of combativeness earlier in the day, Barry charged during an interview with radio station WOL that federal prosecutors gave WRC-TV (Channel 4) a copy of the videotape that the FBI secretly recorded at the Vista Hotel during the drug sting operation that led to Barry's arrest.
"People who work up there have told me they've seen it and again, that's the unfairness of the situation," Barry said. "They control the tape, they give it to Channel 4 and Channel 4 can't quite figure out how to use it."
However, WUSA-TV (Channel 9) reported last night that the tape came "from Barry's own camp." Citing "a source close to the Barry defense team," Channel 9 said the "tape could have been unintentionally leaked without Barry's knowledge."
WRC News Director Kris Ostrowski declined to respond to the mayor's assertion earlier yesterday, and was unavailable last night for coment on the Channel 9 report. U.S. Attorney Jay B. Stephens's office declined to comment on the mayor's statement.
Barry did not provide any specifics to support his allegation that the government leaked the tape. Both the prosecution and defense have copies of the tape. The mayor could not be reached last night to comment on the Channel 9 report.
In an unrelated development, Barry's campaign staff published a newsletter Sunday that likens the U.S. government's prosecution of the mayor to the Holocaust and lynching of blacks in the South. The newsletter was strongly criticized by Washington's Jewish community.
"To compare his indictment to the rankest form of genocide is racist, uncalled for and inexcusable," said Max Berry, a former Barry supporter and Democratic Party organizer who is active in Jewish organizations.
"It's simply ludicrous to link a drug prosecution to events as horrific as lynching and the Holocaust," said David C. Friedman, director of the Washington area chapter of the Anti-Defamation League.
William B. Cooke, president of the D.C. branch of the NAACP, declined to comment on the comparison to lynchings in the South, but did say: "I think what they're trying to comment on is the severity with which he has been treated by the entire system, including the media.
"I don't know how the mayor can get a fair trial," Cooke said. "The press has already tried him."
Anita Bonds, Barry's campaign manager and the author of the newsletter editorial, said she had tried to make the commentary "as graphic as possible" and did not intend to offend anyone.
The Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said reports that large sums of money have been spent in the prosecution of the mayor helped him understand the use of "poetic license and allegory" by the mayor's staff.
Also yesterday, Barry met privately with Jesse L. Jackson, who later said he hoped the mayor and Stephens could reach a plea agreement to avoid a protracted trial.
"All parties should try to arrive at a point of mutual agreement and spare Marion Barry and his family and the city and the country the pain of a long, drawn-out process," Jackson said. "The losses and the damage need to be cut."
Judge Jackson barred reporters and the public from the trial's opening session yesterday while he read a statement to prospective jurors.
A 25-page questionnaire that the potential jurors were required to fill out yesterday included a list of 48 potential witnesses, including Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore, the former Barry girlfriend who lured the mayor to the Vista Hotel the night he was arrested, three longtime members of the mayor's security detail and several former close associates of Barry.
Barry entered and left the federal courthouse through a side entrance and avoided reporters and a group of Guardian Angels, a self-styled citizen patrol group that waved placards and shouted for the mayor to resign.
Although Barry's appearance at court drew few curious onlookers, the preliminary round of jury screening was another milestone in the most tumultuous year in recent District history.
The city and its political establishment have ridden a roller coaster of emotion, from the upheaval of Barry's Jan. 18 arrest to his seven weeks of addiction treatment to his two indictments on a total of 14 criminal counts to the intense public relations campaign he aimed at supporters and potential jurors.
Even though the trial has begun, the ride appears to be far from over. If Barry and federal authorities reach no plea agreement soon, jury selection in the case could take up to two weeks, and the trial could last another month after that, according to some experts.
Among the possible witnesses in the trial are Dixie Hedrington, a St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, legal secretary who told agents she saw Barry in March 1988 with what appeared to be a large quantity of cocaine, and Zenna Mathis, a St. Thomas teacher who told agents she met Barry and Charles Lewis at Barry's hotel in the Virgin Islands when Lewis has said Barry used drugs.
Others named as possible witnesses are Moore's sister, Mertine Moore; FBI agent Peter Wubbenhorst; and D.C. police detectives Albert Arrington and James Pawlik. The list also contains the names of several people who have been identified by prosecutors as co-conspirators in the case: Jeff Mitchell, an advertising executive; Lloyd N. Moore Jr., a Washington lawyer; and Hassan Mohammadi, a Georgetown restaurateur.
The enormous stakes for Barry, who has said his political fortunes probably will fall or rise on the outcome of the trial, drew some of his supporters to the courthouse hours before the mayor arrived promptly at 10 a.m.
In front of the courthouse, a small army of 50 newspeople with video cameras jostled for position as 25 photographers staked out their turf in sight of the two doors through which the mayor was likely to enter.
Across the street, about 15 members of the Guardian Angels, wearing red berets and camouflage pants, circled a large statue carrying signs that read, "Barry smoked crack, We don't want him back," "Barry Resign" and "Mayor Barry goes up in Smoke."
Barry and his family were preceded into the courtroom by defense lawyer R. Kenneth Mundy, who wore a straw hat with a maroon and blue band. Mundy smiled at the waiting reporters, waved and kept moving.
When the mayor, his wife, Effi, and his mother, Mattie Cummings, left the elevator on the second floor, the crowd of reporters and spectators was unusually quiet. There were no shouted questions at the mayor, who walked briskly into the courtroom with his family.
Once inside, seated and facing a group of 125 potential jurors, Barry intently studied each person as the roll was called and jurors rose to answer. For those who were off to one side or in the back, Barry craned his neck to get a better view.
Before the questionnaires were passed out to the jurors, Jackson introduced the principal players of the legal drama, making no mention of the title Barry has held since he took office in 1979.
"This is a criminal case," Jackson said, according to a copy of his remarks later issued by his office. "The defendant is Marion S. Barry Jr."
Jackson said the 12-member jury and several alternates would be sequestered -- housed together at public expense -- but not anonymous. He also said the intense publicity about the Barry case would not "by itself" disqualify any of the prospective jury members from serving.
However, "if the publicity has caused you to form some opinions about the case already, and you think that you might be unable to put those opinions aside entirely and listen to the evidence with an open mind, please be candid about it in your answers," Jackson said.
The detailed questionnaire probed such issues as the potential jurors' political affiliations, their personal experiences with alcohol and drug abuse, their feelings on whether racial prejudice played a role in the mayor's indictment and how they viewed undercover "sting" operations of the type that resulted in Barry's Jan. 18 arrest.
Staff writers Barton Gellman, Jill Nelson, Tracy Thompson and Michael York contributed to this report.