Antoine Jones stood before a jury and tore a drug conspiracy indictment to pieces, then verbally attacked the witnesses he expects to testify for the prosecution.
Acting as his own lawyer in D.C. federal court, the accused drug dealer launched his defense Monday with equal parts drama and clumsiness. He stumbled to recall a name, referred to himself in the third person and was admonished more than once by an increasingly impatient judge. But he urged jurors to judge the government’s case harshly — and to bear in mind that he is going it alone.
“This is my first time ever doing something like this,” Jones said. “I’m fighting for my life.”
Jones, 53, stands accused of funneling hundreds of kilograms of cocaine into the Washington area from Mexico. Prosecutors, who opened their case against him on Friday, allege that when FBI agents eventually moved in on Jones’s operation in October 2005, they seized 97 kilos of cocaine from a single Fort Washington stash house.
It was Jones’s turn on Monday, and he chose to represent himself despite the advice of U.S. District Judge Ellen S. Huvelle.
Wearing a yellow-orange dress shirt, Jones spoke loudly and clearly as he claimed that key witnesses were testifying against him only to avoid lengthy prison terms. He urged jurors to consider him innocent “until this government proves me guilty.”
At one point, Jones paused and gestured as he tried to recall the name of a witness in the case. A prosecutor gently called out the name, and Jones continued. Later, as Jones questioned a female FBI agent, Huvelle warned him: “You can only ask her questions. You can’t argue with her.”
Jones’s defense is that he had no connection to the drug operation FBI agents broke up. He seemed intent Monday on trying to raise jurors’ doubts in any way possible.
At one point, he asked FBI agent Kellie O’Brien whether she was near- or farsighted; at another, he suggested that federal agents arrested him because he was on the verge of selling a D.C. nightclub he owned.
He aggressively questioned O’Brien about whether he was clearly visible in surveillance pictures from the Fort Washington stash house. He suggested that investigators would have arrested him much sooner if their evidence was as solid as they say it is.
Listing some of that evidence — surveillance, cellphone tower transmission information and confidential sources — Jones exclaimed, “How much do you need to arrest Mr. Jones!”
Huvelle seemed increasingly frustrated with Jones, admonishing him late in the day, “Don’t talk over me.” Jones objected frequently throughout the proceedings, usually after an attorney appointed by the court to help him whispered in his ear. Huvelle at one point dismissed the jury to complain about the practice.
“I don’t think it’s going to work with you feeding him all the objections and telling him what to say,” Huvelle told Jeffrey O’Toole, the court-appointed lawyer. But O’Toole said that he was not appointed “simply to be sitting here,” and Huvelle later told him he could continue to advise Jones on objections.
Jones has been in jail since 2005, and this is his third trial. His first trial ended with the jury deadlocked. The Supreme Court reversed his conviction from the second trial, ruling that Jones’s rights were violated when investigators attached a tracking device to his vehicle without a warrant.
Jones rejected a government plea offer that might have allowed him to serve as few as eight more years behind bars.
Prosecutors tried to connect Jones to the Fort Washington stash house Monday without evidence from the tracking device, relying largely on O’Brien, who testified that she saw Jones driving with one of his suppliers in the area. Prosecutors also played for jurors several strange phone calls between Jones and men who they claim worked with him in the drug trade.
Some of the phone calls were just seconds long, with Jones saying only “five minutes” or “10 minutes” before hanging up. Prosecutors say he was arranging meetings with his cocaine suppliers. On other calls, Jones discussed “music” in bizarre ways. Prosecutors say he was using it as a code word for cocaine.
Jones disputed both assertions, even reading each call out loud as he asked O’Brien incredulously, “You’re saying this call right here is relating to narcotics?”
Testimony is scheduled to resume Tuesday morning.