In what is believed to be a first in federal courts in Maryland, a reputed Baltimore drug lord and a dozen of his alleged co-conspirators went on trial yesterday, their fate to be decided by a jury whose names and addresses are being kept secret to protect against jury tampering.
The U.S. District Court trial of Linwood "Rudi" Williams, who is accused of having brought enormous quantities of heroin into metropolitan Baltimore, is expected to last at least three months. Prosecutors are expected to call dozens of witnesses and produce hundreds of wiretapped phone calls in their effort to convict Mr. Williams and his organization in one of the biggest drug cases in Baltimore in recent years.
As prosecutors and two of the more than a dozen defense lawyers made their opening statements yesterday, security was tightened in the first-floor ceremonial courtroom of the courthouse. Additional federal marshals have been deployed inside the courtroom, and others with metal detectors have been positioned outside the courtroom door.
By far the most unusual aspect of the case, however, is the decision by Judge Frank A. Kaufman to grant the government's request that jurors' names and addresses not be made public and that they be kept from both prosecuting and defense attorneys. Lawyers will know only such general information as the jurors' ages, occupations and the zip codes of the neighborhoods in which they live.
Such a process is highly unusual and is believed to be a first in the federal courts in Maryland. The names and addresses of jurors have been kept from the public in other federal jurisdictions recently, most notably during the trials of reputed New York City mobster John Gotti and in Washington, where drug lord Rayful Edmonds was tried and convicted.
"I don't think there has been more than a handful in the whole country, and usually it's where there's a belief that one or more of the defendants has a history of being extremely violent or dangerous and may tamper with a jury," said Michael Kaminkow, second vice president of the state's defense bar.
Defense lawyers refused to comment on the jury order, saying that Judge Kaufman has barred both prosecutors and defense attorneys from discussing the case outside the courtroom.
In Mr. Williams' case, government documents accuse him and his organization of jury tampering and of juror intimidation. Also mentioned were two other cases in which Mr. Williams allegedly used perjured testimony to win acquittal. A witness in one of those cases later pleaded guilty to perjury.
Another twist in the jury selection for the Williams case is that government prosecutors struck from the jury five people who lived in Baltimore. The prosecutors argued that they had done so because they feared Mr. Williams and his defendants might have their family members come to trial to see if any of the jurors could be identified. Despite defense objections, Judge Kaufman ruled that the prosecutors' decisions did not violate the law.
In the past five years, Mr. Williams has been acquitted of two drug-related murders, a handgun charge stemming from the seizure of a semiautomatic .45-caliber Uzi, and a drug case in which police recovered $78,000 worth of heroin.
During her opening statement yesterday, Katharine J. Armentrout, one of three federal prosecutors on the case, told the jury that Mr. Williams and his organization distributed an enormous amount of heroin in Baltimore. She said the government's case would include evidence such as guns, money and drugs, "the kinds of things you've seen on television."
However, William Purpura, one of two attorneys defending Mr. Williams, told the jury in his opening statement that the government's case is simply "a vindictive prosecution," born of the frustration felt by Baltimore prosecutors and police who tried and failed to win a conviction against Mr. Williams.
Trial testimony is to begin today when Donald Nelson, a member of Mr. Williams' organization, is scheduled to testify. Nelson already has pleaded guilty to giving perjured testimony in an earlier drug case involving Mr. Williams.