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Crack king’s testimony for feds in doubt
6 appeal verdicts in murder trial
Rayful Edmond III, whose crack cocaine empire netted $1 million a week in the late 1980s, walked into the federal courthouse in Washington nearly a decade ago as a witness for the prosecution in a massive murder-for-hire drug case.
By all accounts, his testimony was riveting: He talked about lying to Diane Sawyer when she interviewed him on national television; about his custom-made $100,000 Rolex; about his Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Jaguar; and about filling up garbage bags with the small bills he couldn't be bothered to count to give to neighborhood children in Northeast Washington.
But now, all these years later, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit - which is considering a lengthy appeal from the defendants Edmond testified against, including Kevin Gray, convicted of a record 19 murders - is questioning the decision by the U.S. attorney's office to put Edmond on the witness stand.
The Edmond testimony is one of a host of issues that attorneys for Gray, Rodney Moore, who was convicted of 10 murders, and four other co-defendants are raising in hopes of having their convictions reversed after a death-penalty trial that lasted 10 months, one of the longest-running criminal trials in D.C. history.
"I'm rather concerned about the Edmond testimony," Chief Judge David B. Sentelle said at oral arguments in the case last week. The judge said that while Edmond testified about his big crack-dealing operation, it wasn't clear what much of his testimony had to do with the defendants in the trial.
"I'm not really sure ... how that was relevant in the first place," he said.
Questioning whether jurors could have been prejudiced by the testimony, the judge also noted that Edmond testified early in the case, and that jurors may remember more about what they hear first during a long trial.
In court papers, the appeals attorneys hammered the Edmond testimony. They argued that, at the trial, prosecutors said the infamous drug dealer's testimony would help shed light on the formation of the Gray-Moore drug conspiracy.
Instead, the appeals attorneys argued years later, Edmond spent nearly nine hours on the witness stand and "prosecutors were permitted to let Edmond boast of exploits extending far beyond the conspiracy for which he was sentenced to life in prison."
"Nothing Edmond said about Moore was in any way connected to the conspiracy charged here," the attorneys said.
Attorneys for the government disagree, saying in court papers that Edmond's testimony showed he did drug deals with Moore's uncle and that in the mid-1980s, Moore also received cocaine from Edmond.
"Edmond's testimony was properly admitted in this case to demonstrate how the drug trafficking network begun by Moore, and later co-managed by Moore and Gray, was formed," the government argued in its appeals brief.
Regardless of what impact Edmond's testimony may have had on jurors in the case against Gray and Moore, transcripts from his days on the stand shed light, in his own words, on a question that remains unclear: Why did the city's most notorious drug dealer testify for the government?
The decision came about because Edmond, now 46, never stopped dealing drugs after he was sent to prison. While in the high-security federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa., Edmond formed new drug contacts and began setting up big cocaine deals directly from suppliers in Colombia.
Overall, he brokered deals for up to 3,500 pounds of cocaine while in prison, records show. During a subsequent court hearing, Edmond testified that he could make $50 million to $70 million for 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) of cocaine.
Edmond later figured that he personally made a profit of about $200,000 from the deals he arranged while in prison, but he couldn't keep that much while behind bars.
"I sent some to my kids," he said of the money he made. "I helped out a few of my female friends and some of my family members. And my co-defendants that were locked up, I used to send all them money."
But he said he wasn't dealing for the money.
"Basically, I was just locked up. I was doing life. I had nothing else to look forward to. So I just continued to do what I was doing," he said.
But with so much cocaine under Edmond's control, word got out that Edmond was still in the drug business. Soon enough, he was caught selling to an undercover officer.
The day after his arrest for brokering drug deals from prison in the summer of 1994, Edmond was met by FBI and Metropolitan Police Department investigators who wanted him to talk.
"First, they showed me pictures of the police that I was introduced to, and they let me really know that I sold some drugs to an undercover officer," Edmond testified. "And they just started talking to me; you know, what I was doing and why did I keep doing it? ... Then they asked me would I cooperate with them."
Edmond said he didn't give an answer right away but kept talking with the investigators for another hour or two before saying yes.
"I was just tired of doing what I was doing," he said of his decision to cooperate with the FBI. "I was like wild. ... I knew it was a way out for me, and I wanted to stop. So I told them, yeah, I'll do it."
Edmond, according to testimony, received no break in his own life sentence. But his mother, who was arrested along with him, had her prison term reduced because of her son's cooperation.
Edmond was asked about his legacy as the onetime king of crack cocaine in the nation's capital.
Edmond - who said he never drank alcohol, smoked cigarettes or did drugs himself - was credited with introducing crack cocaine to Washington. He was even asked by one defense attorney, "Were crack babies born in Washington, D.C., because of you?"
"I assume they were," Edmond replied.
Did it help?
Transcripts from the Gray and Moore trial show that despite all of the details and insights into Edmond's drug empire that were revealed, there was concern about him taking the stand.
One defense attorney, John Carney, moved for a mistrial on the second day of Edmond's testimony, saying, "It's clear that it's completely unrelated to this case, and the jury is going to make assumptions. It's confusing."
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, now the chief judge for the District Court, dismissed the motion, siding with a prosecutor who said there wasn't any basis for a mistrial. The judge also later told the jury that it could consider Edmond's testimony against Moore but not against the other defendants.
But appeals attorneys said the instruction didn't help.
"Edmond's explosive claims necessarily affected the jurors' ability to assess the charged complicity," they argued in papers filed on appeal.
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