Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore entered the federal witness program on Jan. 29 -- 11 days after she lured D.C. Mayor Marion Barry to a drug sting at the Vista Hotel -- because a $100,000 contract had been placed on her life, according to disclosures made yesterday by Assistant U.S. Attorney Judith E. Retchin.
Retchin, who described the alleged murder contract at the bench in the drug and perjury trial of Barry, said "there is no evidence to connect Mr. Barry to the threat in any way."
A source familiar with the investigation, who insisted on anonymity, said authorities are focusing on others involved with Moore in her acknowledged drug activities. Barry and those close to him have not been implicated in the threat, the source said.
The FBI has deemed the threat to be serious, according to Retchin, and "there is an ongoing investigation" into its circumstances, she said.
Few details were available by late yesterday concerning the source or nature of the threat or the manner of its discovery by authorities.
The source said the FBI learned from an informant within days of the Vista sting that a contract on Moore had been solicited.
Moore did not learn of the contract directly, the source said.
In her testimony yesterday, Moore gave several indications that there may be several former drug associates with reason to resent her cooperation with federal authorities.
"Where did you buy the cocaine from?" Retchin asked Moore in one exchange.
"I bought it from someone by the name of John on T Street Northwest," she replied.
"Have you given John's name to the agents in this case?" Retchin asked.
"Yes, I have," Moore replied.
Because Retchin discussed the murder contract at the bench, the jury in Barry's drug and perjury trial has not heard about it. But the 23-minute bench conference -- the longest yet in the Barry trial -- raised the possibility that the jurors may soon learn of the threat against Moore.
Retchin, as she has done before, sought guidance from U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson about how much information she could elicit from Moore on the witness stand.
Retchin said she expected R. Kenneth Mundy, the mayor's attorney, to ask Moore on cross-examination how much money she has received from federal authorities since she began cooperating in the case against Barry.
If Mundy intends to ask that, Retchin argued, prosecutors should be entitled to "put the payments into context." Jurors should know, Retchin said, that Moore is in the witness protection program -- and why.
"I think that you are entitled to do that if the question of payments from the government is placed in issue," Jackson said.
Mundy argued vigorously against that position.
Mundy, possibly fearing that the disclosure might engender sympathy for Moore, said he is entitled to ask about payments made to Moore before she entered the program without risking disclosure of the murder contract.
Mundy has centered the mayor's defense on the contention that federal prosecutors waged a five-year vendetta against Barry, and he hopes to present as evidence of this what he calls "the vast expenditures the government made in this case."
Retchin's rejoinder at the bench yesterday appeared to concern him.
Henry W. Asbill, a criminal defense lawyer, said Mundy can use the death threat to his advantage. "I wouldn't shy away from it," he said. "I'd go right after it."
Because prosecutors have acknowledged that Barry and his associates are not the source of the threat, Asbill said, he would attempt to draw out what other "bad things" Moore had done that would elicit such a threat. Asbill said the defense could try to show that Moore was "so afraid" of her other associates that she "would do and say anything the government wanted about Barry."
"People generally don't kill people for ratting on giving them a gram of cocaine," said Asbill. The government "paid her with something worth much more than money -- her life."
In operation since 1970, the federal witness program provides temporary protection and relocation for witnesses in significant federal cases. Witnesses typically are given new identities, some financial support and help in finding work.