A story July 20 reported that R. Donahue Peebles was an alleged cocaine co-conspirator in the drug conspiracy charges involving D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. No such allegation was made at the trial, and no evidence was introduced that Peebles used or possessed drugs of any kind. (Published 8/8/90)

The Davids of the defense team may have a stone or two left in their slings, but the mayor's federal prosecutors gave a convincing demonstration yesterday that there are advantages in coming to court as Goliath.

Lawyers for D.C. Mayor Marion Barry called three witnesses on their first day of evidence for the defense. In cross-examination by the government, all three became vehicles for new and damaging evidence against the mayor, and one of them -- the first -- appeared to suffer damage himself.

"Even helicopters start slow," said lead defense attorney R. Kenneth Mundy, in the best spin he could manage at the end of the day.

Superior investigative firepower was the key to the prosecution's apparent success. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Judith E. Retchin and Richard W. Roberts did what the defense never managed during 20 days of testimony for the government: They surprised the opposition with pointed questions the witnesses did not expect.

"The government's investigation of the mayor has included all sorts of peripheral people, and they don't have to let the defense know what they've turned up," said Mark J. Rochon, a former chief trial lawyer for the Public Defender Service.

The first surprise came within minutes of Retchin's opening question to James L. Stays. Stays, the senior member of Barry's security detail, was called by defense lawyer Robert W. Mance to rebut some details in government accounts of a March 1988 trip to the Virgin Islands.

Retchin's opening volleys were unexceptional, establishing that Stays depended on the mayor's approval for his assignment and that he did not spend enough time with Barry on the Virgin Islands trip to offer a complete alibi against allegations of drug use.

Then came this:

"Did you tell Detective {Warren} Goodwine that Willie Davis provides Mr. Barry with cocaine?" Retchin asked.

Stays pulled back in his chair in apparent amazement.

"Me?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," Retchin said.

"No, ma'am," Stays replied.

That was enough for Mundy, who tried to stop further inquiry in a bench conference. But Retchin was only beginning. Out of hearing of the jury, she said she wanted to ask Stays about allegations that he had used cocaine.

When U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson invited her to disclose her "good-faith basis" for the questions, Retchin gave an answer that seemed to stun the defense.

Stays, she said, had refused to take a urine test proposed by officers of the internal affairs unit. She said Goodwine, a scheduled defense witness, had told the officers that Stays had told him that the mayor got cocaine from Willie Davis. Furthermore, Retchin concluded, "there has been testimony under oath before the grand jury about Mr. Stays's narcotics use."

"That hurts us," Mundy said during the court's noon recess. "We were not aware of the allegations. Nobody has ever mentioned them to us."

When questioning resumed in the afternoon, the officer denied any drug use. Mundy also disputed whether Stays had refused a urine test. But in a crucial evidentiary ruling, Jackson said the government could try to prove the allegations against Stays during its rebuttal case.

Apart from damaging Stays, Retchin used him to corroborate circumstantial details of the case against Barry. Stays acknowledged that he had taken the mayor "on numerous occasions" to the homes of alleged cocaine co-conspirators Doris Crenshaw, R. Donahue Peebles, Rose Marie "Maria" McCarthy, Bettye L. Smith, Tony Jones, A. Jeffrey Mitchell and Lloyd N. Moore Jr., and to Hassan H. Mohammadi's Georgetown restaurant.

Against the afternoon's second witness, a supervisor of D.C. youth employment programs named Daryl Hardy, the prosecution again showed how a detailed command of the facts could be put to good advantage.

On direct examination by Mundy, Hardy was an articulate exponent of the defense view that there was nothing amiss in the city's contract with Hazel Diane "Rasheeda" Moore for Project Me, an effort aimed at improving teenage self-esteem. Moore had testified that Barry rushed the contract through because of his intimate relationship with her.

But unbeknownst to the defense, Hardy had given an interview to the FBI in February. Roberts used the fruits of that interview in a detailed cross-examination that for the first time gave the jury a vivid picture of Barry's alleged intervention in the contract.

As hostile with Roberts as he had been cooperative with Mundy, Hardy acknowledged that Project Me was twice awarded contracts past deadline, that Moore told him the mayor had a personal interest in the program, that he had an impression from his supervisors that the project had been sent "from the District Building," and that Barry wanted the contract doubled in its second year.