Prosecution tapes could be harmful to J. Lewis' case

Alleged drug dealer refers to `Jamal'

ruling pending on admissibility for trial

May 27, 2004|By Ben Volin | Ben Volin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

ATLANTA - Prosecutors in the drug conspiracy case against Jamal Lewis and his friend Angelo Jackson played a videotape in a federal courtroom yesterday that showed Jackson allegedly arranging a drug deal and mentioning the name "Jamal."

The surveillance tape is potentially damaging to the Ravens running back, but only if U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Walker rules it is admissible when the federal case goes to trial.

In yesterday's hearing, government and defense lawyers argued over what evidence could be used to try the men, and when the defense lawyers will gain access to evidence ruled admissible.

Both men have pleaded not guilty, and no trial date has been set.

Lewis, 24, raised in Atlanta, was indicted in February and charged with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute at least 5 kilograms of cocaine and using a cell phone in the commission of a drug crime.

Prosecutors allege he and Jackson conspired with a woman, who turned out to be a government informant, to sell cocaine. Jackson was arrested outside an Atlanta apartment complex on July 19, 2000.

Yesterday, prosecutors played the hidden surveillance tape of Jackson's activity minutes before his arrest. The tape showed Jackson enter the informant's apartment and ogle two individually wrapped kilos of cocaine, which was provided by FBI undercover agent Mark Webster. Jackson allegedly had negotiated the sale of 50 kilos over the phone with Webster and was inspecting the first two kilos.

In the videotape, Jackson asked, "Want me to call Jamal?" and the confidential witness replied, "He came, did he tell you?" No last name is spoken.

The prosecution also played an audiotape of a phone conversation between Jackson and the confidential witness. The witness is heard saying, "I got it [the coke] now baby, I'm just waiting for you to get off the phone with Jamal."

Edward T.M. Garland, an attorney for Lewis, said last night of the audiotaped statement: "That is a clear effort by the cooperating witness as indicated by the tape played in court to inject Jamal's name into her conduct. That would be evidence of her efforts to involve Jamal."

Lawyers for Lewis and Jackson contend the informant entrapped their clients to serve her own interests.

During yesterday's hearing, both sides conducted lengthy interviews of six FBI special agents who were present at Jackson's arrest. Among other things, the agents testified that Jackson mentioned someone named Jamal during questioning the night of the arrest.

"Jamal told me she had a kilo. Man, they're going to kill me," Jackson said in the agents' reports, without indicating to whom he referred.

Said Garland: "I don't think that evidence does [implicate Lewis] in any respect, and Jamal never agreed to be a part of a conspiracy."

Garland also suggested the evidence wouldn't be permitted at trial. "If they're tried separately it won't be admissible. It would only be admissible if they were tried together, and Jackson took the stand."

The case stems from a long-running investigation of what federal court records portray as a multimillion-dollar drug ring operated out of an Atlanta housing project. In 2000, the FBI gave a microphone to the confidential witness to record any phone conversation about cocaine deals.

In all, the witness recorded about 171 tapes full of conversations over several months, though roughly only 30 of the tapes were pertinent. Yesterday, the prosecution argued that it shouldn't have to furnish all of them.

"Asking me to turn over 141 tapes unrelated to the case is not appropriate," lead prosecutor Mike Brown said.

However, U.S. Magistrate Judge Linda Walker disagreed and awarded the defense complete access to the tapes. Though the defense wanted immediate access, Walker said the prosecution has to hand over the tapes 10 days before the start of the trial.

Lewis' attorneys are attacking the validity of five phone conversations taped by the confidential witness. In those five, only the witness' voice is heard and not the part of the conversation that allegedly involves Lewis.

The prosecution claims the witness accidentally placed the microphone the wrong way in the phone each time. But the defense attorneys disagreed.

"It's not as if the confidential witness woke up on a Wednesday morning and put an earpiece in backwards four times," said Donald Samuel, lead defense attorney for Lewis. "This happened over a course of time, one week, then the next week, then the next."

In another evidence discovery dispute, attorneys for Lewis and Jackson demanded that the prosecution hand over the confidential witness' criminal record immediately.

"The government has had four years to review this information, we'd just like a few days to catch up," said Steve Sadow, Jackson's attorney.

However Walker decreed that the prosecution will hand over the record the Friday morning before the start of trial.

With no date set, Lewis' status for the Ravens' training camp remains uncertain, lead defense attorney Donald Samuel said.

However, defense attorneys said they heard a rumor that the trial might be in August, which could affect Lewis' appearances in the preseason and possibly regular season.

"If the trial is in August, then the answer is yes, [he will be affected for training camp]," Samuel said.

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