A U.S. District Court jury in Baltimore returned guilty verdicts yesterday against all nine men accused of murder, kidnapping and drug charges for their participation in the alleged Anthony Jones drug ring, which prosecutors say was one of the city's most violent drug gangs.
Eight of the nine could be sentenced to life in prison without parole for conspiracy to distribute narcotics. Some also face prison time for other, related convictions.
The ninth, John Levi Benton, was acquitted yesterday of the drug conspiracy charge but was found guilty on a separate count of conspiracy to murder and kidnap, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Judge William M. Nickerson said he would set sentencing dates for the nine "as promptly as I can." Sentencing is not expected for two to three months.
Prosecutors said the Anthony Jones gang killed at least eight people, set fire to a man, disposed of a body in a trash barrel, corrupted a police officer, threatened federal witnesses and their families and infected several East Baltimore neighborhoods with drugs.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamie M. Bennett called the case "one of the most shocking and horrible cases I've encountered."
"It is hard not to be pleased when all defendants are convicted," Bennett said. "That jury was excellent. I certainly hope it makes an impact in the community."
Yesterday's verdicts came more than seven years after the first killing noted in the case and six years after the first search warrant was issued. The trial took two months. Deliberations by the jury of six men, and six women took 10 1/2 hours over three days.
Eight other defendants in the case pleaded guilty. A ninth -- accused ringleader Anthony Ayeni Jones -- will be tried April 6 on murder and kidnapping charges. He could get the death penalty.
Dressed in jeans and plaid flannel shirts or sweat shirts, the nine defendants smiled as they filed in to hear the verdicts. They scanned the heavily guarded courtroom for familiar faces.
They showed no reaction as the 23 verdicts on six counts were read. No reaction was heard from anyone in the courtroom. Nickerson had warned that any outburst would be "promptly and severely dealt with."
The defendants did not smile as they filed out in handcuffs.
In closing arguments to the jury last week, defense attorneys argued that the prosecutors' case was a "fiction" concocted by a collection of killers, drug dealers, "sociopaths and abominations" who testified as part of plea bargains with the government.
In her closing arguments, Bennett told jurors the prosecution "would like to offer you witnesses of unimpeachable character. But these defendants don't associate with priests and nuns. They associate with other killers."
Using such witnesses is necessary "where defendants' actions are cloaked in secrecy," she said.
Bennett said the defense witnesses had far more to gain by lying than the government's witnesses did. "They are just rolling the dice on a more favorable outcome," she said.
Besides Benton, the eight convicted yesterday were Alan Vincent Chapman, Warren Devon Hill, Jerry Antonio Williams, Allen Jett, Darnell Michael Jones, Victor Underwood, Rodney Montgomery and Antoine Depaul Marshall.
Each was convicted of one or more of these charges: conspiracy to murder and kidnap; murder in aid of racketeering; attempted murder in aid of racketeering; conspiracy to retaliate against a witness; and conspiracy to distribute narcotics.
Pub Date: 12/23/97