Nathan "Bodie" Barksdale was among West Baltimore's better known and more violent heroin dealers in the 1980s and has the criminal record to prove it. When he was arrested last year, charged as a felon in possession of a gun, that notorious history presented Barksdale with a current-day problem:
If he were convicted on the gun violation in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, Barksdale, now 43, could be classified as a career offender and face a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years.
So Barksdale, who once was acquitted of charges that he killed his mentor in the drug trade, again put his fate in a jury's hands and went to trial on the gun charge. On Tuesday, the jury deliberated less than 30 minutes before finding him not guilty.
Barksdale's attorney, Timothy J. Sullivan of College Park, said the government had built "a weak, circumstantial evidence case" against his client.
The charge stemmed from a March 24, 2003, traffic stop of a 1992 Plymouth minivan with stolen tags in the 1900 block of N. Monroe St. The van was being driven as an unlicensed taxi - or "hack" - by a woman named Leslie Muhammad.
Barksdale was the only passenger. Inside the van, police found a loaded .40-caliber Glock handgun under a back seat where Barksdale had been riding. Authorities did not find fingerprints on the weapon.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Lynn Dwyer told jurors that Barksdale was the only person who could have had control of the weapon. "He was sitting right on top of it," she said.
Sullivan countered that Barksdale was an unwitting bystander and suggested the gun could have been left in the van by Muhammad or any recent passenger.
Muhammad, who also has a criminal record, denied that the gun was hers. According to court records, she told police she was giving a ride to Barksdale because he was a family friend; Muhammad is a daughter of former Baltimore drug lord and death row inmate Anthony Grandison.
Barksdale presided in the mid-1980s over a lucrative heroin ring that authorities said controlled much of the drug traffic in now-demolished public housing such as the Lexington Terrace apartments and the George B. Murphy Homes.
In August 1982, Barksdale was charged in the killing of Frank Harper, a drug trafficker who had been Barksdale's mentor in the trade.
A city Circuit Court jury deliberated about three hours before acquitting Barksdale, who sometimes used a wheelchair because his right leg was amputated below the knee.
In another high-profile case, Barksdale was convicted in early 1985 of torturing three people in an 11th-floor apartment in Murphy Homes. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The federal government's Armed Career Criminal statute provides stiff sentences for criminals with previous convictions for drug trafficking or felony crimes of violence.
Before Barksdale, U.S. prosecutors in Baltimore had used the statute in 2000 to obtain a 22-year sentence against one-time city drug lord Melvin "Little Melvin" Williams, also on a charge of being a felon in possession of a gun.
That sentence was reduced to about four years after a federal judge ruled last year that Williams - whose vast drug operation at one point included supplying heroin to Barksdale's crew - did not meet the technical requirements of the career-criminal law.