Ex-heroin lord guilty in jail drug smuggling

Jones was being held for violation of parole

April 15, 1999|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

John Edward "Liddy" Jones, one of the biggest and most notorious drug lords in the city's history, was found guilty yesterday by a federal jury of masterminding a ring to smuggle drugs into Baltimore City Detention Center.

The U.S. District Court jury of nine women and three men deliberated for 7 1/2 hours over two days before returning its verdict against Jones, 57, who was in jail for violating his parole from a 30-year federal drug sentence he received in 1973.

Convicted with Jones on drug conspiracy charges were all three of his co-defendants in the monthlong trial -- fellow inmate James A. Cromer, who prosecutors said helped Jones sell drugs in jail; Jones' girlfriend, Joyce Y. Cottom, who arranged to buy the drugs and smuggle them into Jones with the help of a jail guard; and Aaron Liles, the boyfriend of Cottom's granddaughter, who collected money from friends and relatives of jail customers.

Five others have entered into plea agreements in the case, including former jail guard George Timothy Hawkins, who testified for the government.

Dressed in blue jeans and a gray sweat shirt, as he was during the entire trial, Jones showed little reaction to the verdict.

His only visible response was to lean over and whisper to his attorney, Gary A. Ticknor.

Ticknor, who argued that prosecutors had unfairly targeted Jones because of his notoriety, said afterward, "We're obviously going to appeal.

"They obviously wanted to get him and they got him," he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea L. Smith, the lead prosecutor, said the charge carries a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence.

One of the factors in the federal sentencing guidelines is the amount of drugs involved, said Smith.

The government introduced three bags of seized marijuana into evidence, but Smith said, "This case wasn't about volume of drugs. It was about the city detention center and what goes on there."

Judge William M. Nickerson set sentencing for Jones for June 29. Cromer, Cottom and Liles are scheduled for sentencing earlier in June.

The core of the government's case was dozens of FBI-wiretapped conversations between Jones and Cottom. Prosecutors contended that the conversations were laced with coded references to drugs.

Mentions of items such as "mattresses," "box springs" and "chairs" referred to drugs bought from a dealer known as the Furniture Man.

Jones took the stand against the advice of his lawyer.

Jones -- who before his 1973 conviction ran one of the largest heroin rings in the city -- said he was "embarrassed to be in federal court for three bags of weed."

He denied that the recordings contained references to drugs, insisting that he was talking about such items as legal papers, lotion and popcorn.

During her cross-examination of Jones, Smith noted several conversations, including one in which Cottom told Jones, "I got what you asked for. Not on a grand scale but I got what you asked for."

"What are you talking about, Mr. Jones?" Smith demanded.

"Herbal tea," Jones replied.

In her closing arguments, Smith ridiculed Jones' testimony.

"The truth kept moving when Mr. Jones was on the stand," she said.

Smith called the wiretapped evidence against Jones and the other defendants "devastating."

But Ticknor called the recordings "ordinary calls" that didn't meet the government's burden of proving a conspiracy.

Ticknor and lawyers for Jones' co-defendants derided the government's key witnesses -- Hawkins and two drug-buying inmates -- as unreliable and interested not in telling the truth but ingratiating themselves with prosecutors.

Pub Date: 4/15/99

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