Man is ordered held in custody to await trial on drug charges

Judge's ruling based on `uncertainty' in Jones' girlfriend's death

February 16, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,sun reporter

A U.S. District Court judge ordered yesterday that a suspected drug dealer whose girlfriend was found dead in the trunk of her car last month be held in federal custody while awaiting trial on heroin distribution charges.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake reversed an earlier decision by a federal magistrate judge to release Jermarl A. Jones to a Baltimore halfway house until his June trial.

Referring to the unsolved homicide of Jones' longtime girlfriend, Sintia Mesa, the judge mentioned "the uncertainty of the circumstances of what happened with Ms. Mesa" among her reasons for detaining the defendant.

"My major problem is the very uncertain nature of the circumstances of the homicide," Blake said during an hourlong detention hearing yesterday afternoon in federal court in Baltimore. "And I'm not saying that I believe that Mr. Jones is responsible for that. I don't know. And nobody knows."

Noting that Jones has the means and the ability to evade authorities searching for him, the judge added, "There is much too much of a risk that something could happen that we may not be able to predict yet that could cause Mr. Jones to flee. He is looking at some real difficult circumstances."

Jones, 31, of Hyattsville, was arrested last month on a year-old federal indictment that charged him with conspiring to sell heroin. A music producer and manager for a local rap musician, Jones was released Jan. 5 from federal custody to await trial.

But after Jones failed to check in with pretrial services officials, another federal judge issued a warrant for his arrest -- a day after Mesa's nude body was found in the trunk of her car on the parking lot of a Northwest Baltimore apartment complex. City police have said that the 25-year-old salon employee was killed by asphyxiation.

Officer Troy Harris, a Baltimore police spokesman, said yesterday that there were no new developments to report in the homicide case.

Defense attorney Stanley H. Needleman, who is representing Jones in the drug case, argued yesterday that his client has never failed to appear for a court date and is willing to answer any question from police about his girlfriend's death. The lawyer has previously said in court that city homicide detectives told him that Jones is neither a target nor a suspect in Mesa's killing.

In addition, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey called the detectives herself before deciding this month to release Jones to a Volunteers of America Community Confinement Center in Baltimore. That ruling was effectively blocked when federal prosecutors immediately appealed it.

Prosecutor Philip S. Jackson, who is handling the heroin case against Jones, has said that Mesa's death has "all the markings" of a drug-related killing.

He reminded the judge yesterday that U.S. marshals spent nearly a year searching for Jones before they arrested him last month in the drug case, and that the suspect had a District of Columbia driver's license -- bearing a photo of Jones but the name of Eugene Luroy Dareen -- in his wallet that day.

Told by Needleman that Jones has a cousin by that name, the judge responded, "Most of us don't use our cousin's name on our driver's licenses."

jennifer.mcmenamin@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Gus G. Sentementes contributed to this article.

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