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“He’s a different person now,” Mr. Graber contended.

But prosecutors argued that Wilkerson himself was involved in a jail assault, with the other inmate requiring hospitalization. They also said while Wilkerson had a difficult childhood, thousands of others in the same circumstances have made a different choice.

“When you pull the trigger of a gun, no matter how charismatic the leader, that’s your choice,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Rachel Carlson Lieber.

Wilkerson admitted involvement in drugs but said he didn’t commit any murders.

“I am not the person these people are making me out to be,” he said, largely blaming the charges against him on the testimony of a cooperating witness in the case.

Tuesday wasn’t the first time conditions at the jail have surfaced on the question of how long an inmate ought to be punished.

Walter Anderson, charged in a $200 million tax-evasion case, said he pleaded guilty in 2006 because he couldn’t prepare for trial at the D.C. Jail, which he has described as a “hellhole.”

In response to questions from The Washington Times for a previous article on his case, he said that spending 10 years in federal prison would be easier than the 2½ years he spent at the D.C. Jail, adding, “Federal prison’s no picnic either.”

The jail was built in 1975 and is the 30th-largest correctional system in the country.

Ms. Lane, the D.C. corrections spokeswoman, said the jail received full accreditation last year by the American Correctional Association, joining only about 5 percent of jails nationwide to do so. She also said the jail’s medical services program has been accredited by outside groups and it has won awards for medical discharge planning, HIV testing and counseling.

She also said a number of major capital improvement projects are under way that address “a range of infrastructure issues” and that the department had recently completed the first phase of a project involving the repair and replacement of all cell doors. The second phase of the program is set to begin in the summer, she said.

Ms. Lane also said the department is moving forward with exterior structural renovations at the jail, adding that because of the age of the structure, the panels that form the exterior walls now require sealing. That project, she said, should be completed by the winter of this year.