D.C. nightclub owner gets dramatic in opening defense

Charged with selling cocaine, tears up indictment in court

A former D.C. nightclub owner being retried on drug conspiracy charges ripped up a copy of his criminal indictment as part of a dramatic opening statement Monday to a federal jury hearing the case after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling banned some previously allowed evidence.

Antoine Jones, who is representing himself, asked the jury to be critical of testimony — particularly from cooperating witnesses who also face criminal charges — and not to judge him harshly because he is representing himself.

“You might say, ‘He’s nervous.’ This is my first time ever doing anything like this,” Mr. Jones said. “It doesn’t mean I’m guilty because I don’t know how to cross-examine. It doesn’t mean I’m guilty because I don’t remember to object.”

Mr. Jones, who wore a baggy yellow button-up shirt and no jacket, tore the copy of his criminal indictment, telling the majority-female jury that the charges could not be taken at face value.

“Please take time and take out that lie detector,” he encouraged the jury as he spoke in U.S. District Court in the District.

Prosecutors outlined their case in opening statements Friday, saying Mr. Jones bought large quantities of cocaine from Mexican drug suppliers and then sold the drugs, at least partially, through his Northeast D.C. nightclub — Levels. Overall, authorities seized 97 kilos of cocaine and $850,000 in cash as part of several raids tied to the investigation in 2005.

Mr. Jones stated Monday that, although he was under surveillance, authorities never saw him selling drugs.

“Why in two years they never caught this man selling one gram of narcotics?” he said. “Now you bring in witnesses who want to go home, who are facing life?”

In addition to the atypical decision by Mr. Jones to represent himself, his case has a history far from that of the typical drug case.

Arrested in 2005, his first trial ended in a mistrial and a second trial resulted in a conviction and a life sentence, which the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned. A Supreme Court ruling last year thrust Mr. Jones‘ case into the national spotlight, when justices upheld the decision that authorities had violated his rights by attaching a GPS to his wife’s Jeep in order to track his movements.

As a result of the ruling, GPS data will not be allowed as evidence in the current case, which is expected to be heard over several weeks before Judge Ellen S. Huvelle.

Questioning of prosecutors’ first witness, an FBI agent, took the remainder of the day after Mr. Jones‘ opening statement and progressed in awkward fits and starts.

A series of objections raised by Mr. Jones led Judge Huvelle to cut in during prosecutors questioning of Special Agent Kellie O’Brien.

“I don’t think it’s going to work with you feeding him all these objections,” she told court-appointed attorney Jeffrey O’Toole, who is serving as an adviser to Mr. Jones.

At other times, the back-and-forth turned contentious, with Assistant U.S. Attorney Darlene Soltys struggling to raise objections over Mr. Jones as he asked Ms. O’Brien back-to-back questions before she could answer them all.

“Don’t talk over me, just wait your turn,” Judge Huvelle told Mr. Jones during one exchange.

Mr. Jones repeatedly questioned how law enforcement could link him to the drug ring if they had never seen him sell drugs or why they thought that the more than 5,000 phone conversations recorded through a wiretap were related to drugs.

“What’s said in a conversation like that? Nothing. Who calls somebody and has a conversation like that?” Ms. O’Brien testified as she was questioned about phone calls between Mr. Jones and others in which only a few words were exchanged.

Further through the questioning, Mr. Jones asked why agents didn’t attempt to arrest him early on if they thought he was talking about drugs throughout all of the phone conversations.

“You needed a wiretap to arrest Mr. Jones?” he said. “How much do you need on Mr. Jones?”

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