Williams convicted of federal gun charge

Verdict in second trial of ex-drug kingpin follows jury's visit to beating site

October 27, 1999|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Melvin "Little Melvin" Williams -- who once dominated the city's heroin trade with an organization that employed more than 200 street-level dealers -- was convicted yesterday by a federal court jury in Baltimore of felony possession of a handgun.

The conviction carries a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison. In addition, Williams, 58, could face additional time for violating his parole from a mid-1980s federal heroin trafficking sentence.

Williams was first tried on the charge in September, but that trial ended in a mistrial when jurors deadlocked on a verdict.

The conviction is another victory for Project Disarm, a joint federal and state effort that targets violent criminals and drug traffickers for prosecution on handgun charges in federal court, where penalties are stiffer than in state courts. Under federal law, it is illegal for anyone who has been convicted of a major crime to have a firearm.

U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis said sentencing would be in late December, but did not set a date. Williams is being held until then.

The jury of nine women and three men rendered its verdict within minutes of returning from an unusual visit to the home of two key government witnesses. The visit was in a southwest Baltimore neighborhood where Williams was accused of beating a man on the street in March with a 9-mm pistol over a $500 debt.

Jurors had asked to visit the homes as they began their second day of considering the case and were transported by van by U.S. marshals.

During the three-day trial, Williams' attorney, Michael E. Marr, had attacked the credibility of the two witnesses, one of whom said she saw the assault from the street, the other who said she saw it from the living-room window of her Hollins Street rowhouse.

Marr's sole defense witness was an architect who said it would have been virtually impossible to witness the scene given the view from the window, but acknowledged he had not been inside the house. A police detective testifying for the government as a rebuttal witness said he had visited the home and said the scene at the corner of Hollins and Calhoun streets, not far from the Hollins Street Market, was clearly visible.

In addition, four other government witnesses said they saw the beating but could not say for sure that Williams had a gun in his hand. Police officers responding to 911 calls recovered a gun from the front seat of the Lincoln Navigator in which Williams was traveling with a female companion.

"I think all our witnesses were very credible," said Assistant U.S. Attorney James M. Webster III. "They were honest, hard-working citizens who came in and told what they saw."

Williams had no visible reaction to the verdict. Marr left the courtroom to confer with his client after the verdict; efforts to reach him later were unsuccessful.

Williams' wife, Mary Williams, who attended the entire trial, declined to comment.

Marr took a much different approach in the trial than he did in September's mistrial, when Williams took the stand and his defense included testimonials to the transformation of his life by state Sen. Clarence M. Mitchell IV of West Baltimore and prominent clergymen.

The jury in the September trial voted 11 to 1 for conviction, Webster said, one vote shy of the unanimity required for a verdict.

The beating stemmed from a debt on a bail bond policy Williams had sold. Williams was not licensed as a bail bondsman or a bounty hunter, but those facts did not figure in the trial.

"If Mr. Williams had a gun, he's guilty," Garbis told the jury. "If he didn't have a gun, it doesn't matter what he was doing."

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