Term reduced for man who dealt drugs in jail

Appeals court found error in '99 sentencing

March 14, 2002|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A federal judge substantially reduced yesterday the prison sentence of John Edward "Liddy" Jones, once a notorious Baltimore drug dealer, after an appeals court ruled that the judge erred during sentencing.

Jones, who had faced about 10 more years in prison, could be released with good behavior in 3 1/2 years, his attorney said. But Jones, 61, was not happy about his trial and sentence, and lashed out at U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson during yesterday's hearing.

"I pleaded not guilty," Jones said. "I want the law, give me the law."

In 1999, Nickerson sentenced Jones to 17 1/2 years in prison after he was convicted of dealing drugs inside the city detention center while serving time for violating parole. He had been released after serving part of a 30-year sentence for drug dealing.

The FBI wiretapped Jones' telephone conversations in jail and prosecutors said they were laced with codes about drugs. A jury convicted Jones of conspiring to distribute marijuana and heroin.

Jones appealed the sentence, arguing that the judge erred when he refused to let the jury consider the heroin and marijuana charges separately. If convicted of marijuana but not heroin distribution, Jones would have been sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in September and ordered Nickerson to sentence Jones under the marijuana guidelines.

Yesterday, Jones' attorney, Sol Zalel Rosen, argued that Nickerson should further reduce the sentence to a maximum of five years. He argued that there was no proof that Jones received notice from prosecutors that he was going to be tried as a repeat offender, which doubled his prison sentence from five to 10 years.

Rosen also argued that even if prosecutors had notified Jones -- as they claim -- it came too late. Prosecutors contend that they notified Jones during jury selection, but Rosen argued that federal law requires notification before that process begins.

Prosecutors said Jones waived his right to argue that he never received notification because he was told by a magistrate judge that previous convictions could increase his potential sentence.

Prosecutors also said that Jones' attorneys essentially waived the right because they readily admitted during trial that Jones had an extensive criminal record.

During his trial, Jones testified that he was "embarrassed" by the relatively minor charges and if he "was in drugs, [he would] be selling drugs, not no nickel-and-dime case like they got."

Nickerson sided with prosecutors yesterday and reduced the sentence from 17 1/2 to 10 years.

Rosen attacked the decision and said he would appeal.

"I think he views `Liddy' as guilty, ... and he doesn't want to release him on a technicality," Rosen said. "I think he's upset that I got him reversed" on appeal.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jane M. Erisman declined to comment about the case and referred all questions to Virginia B. Evans, the office's spokeswoman. Evans also declined to comment.

A large man who wears thick glasses and yesterday wore a gray T-shirt and jeans, Jones was one of the leading drug figures in Baltimore in the 1960s and 1970s.

He was convicted of state drug charges in 1965, according to court records, and sentenced to five years in prison.

After his release, he began running what prosecutors described as one of the largest heroin rings in the city, distributing up to 7,500 packets a week worth several hundred thousand dollars.

In 1973, he was convicted of federal drug charges and sentenced to 30 years in prison. In 1996, two years after his parole, Jones was charged with rape. Though he was acquitted, the charge and allegations from federal prosecutors that he was involved in drug trafficking led to revocation of his parole.

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