The long arm of justice may reach from Baltimore to the Bahamas today as four defense lawyers and a prosecutor take a deposition from a federal fugitive on the island of Exuma.
The deposition hearing was prompted by a defense attorney in an international drug case tied to the Florida-to-Western Maryland distribution network of convicted gang leaders Marshall L. Jones and Steven A. Silvers. The current case is scheduled for trial next month in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
Today's deposition hearing represents the first time a prosecutor from the U.S. attorney's office here has ever gone out of the country to take sworn testimony from a fugitive.
"It's never happened before," said Breckinridge L. Willcox, the U.S. attorney for Maryland.
"And I think it's relatively extraordinary that a fugitive who is wanted in this country is willing to be interviewed under oath by American law enforcement officials."
Scheduled participants at the Bahamas deposition today include Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew G.W. Norman; defense attorneys Thomas C. Morrow, Gerald C. Ruter, Gary A. Ticknor and William H. Murphy Jr.; Drug Enforcement Administration Agent Alexander F. "Sandy" Smith Jr.; and defendant John J. Kay, Morrow's client, who is free on bond.
Kay, a Boca Raton, Fla., builder, is under indictment in the case here on drug-conspiracy and possession charges with Anthony J. DeAntoni, David Seeright and Jose Valbuena, their alleged Colombian drug source.
Morrow prompted the unusual proceeding by asking court permission to take a sworn deposition from Isaiah "J.R." Rolle, who lives on Exuma.
Senior Judge Herbert N. Maletz approved the request.
But Rolle refused to come to the United States to give the deposition because he is under indictment in a related federal drug case in Florida.
Morrow said yesterday that he expects Rolle to provide critical alibi testimony for Kay -- that Kay and Rolle were involved in building a luxury condo project on Exuma at the time the government alleges that Kay was flying hundreds of pounds of cocaine and marijuana from the Bahamas to Florida.
But Morrow's deposition request created problems for DeAntoni, Valbuena and Seeright. They have a constitutional right to confront witnesses, but they are in federal custody, without bail, pending trial. They could not be released to attend the deposition.
The constitutional issue created a legal snag when the Bahamian government and the U.S. Marshal Service said they have no jurisdiction to guard the defendants at the deposition hearing in the Bahamas.
But Norman untangled the snag by arranging for DeAntoni and Valbuena to participate in the hearing via a long-distance conference call hookup in Willcox's office.
Maletz, at a brief court hearing yesterday, agreed with Norman and the defense attorneys that the conference call arrangement would satisfy the constitutional issue, after the defendants waived their rights to attend the deposition hearing in person.
Ruter said Seeright would waive his right to hear the deposition so long as Ruter participated in it.
Willcox said later that the deposition is a gamble by Morrow that he will get credible information from Rolle to present to a jury.
"I think it's a risky venture for the defense to take," Willcox said. "The government [Norman] may not be able to cross-examine [Rolle] about the pending charges in Florida, but he can be dirtied up in any event."