Barry Trial Begins Today; Plea Bargain Talks Falter : Narcotics: D.C. mayor faces charges of possessing crack and lying under oath. He is described by associates as upbeat, almost defiant.
District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry, his legal and political fortunes hanging in the balance, is scheduled to go to trial in U.S. District Court today after making what sources described as little progress over the weekend in negotiating with federal prosecutors for a possible plea agreement.
Associates who spoke with the mayor over the weekend described him as upbeat, almost defiant, on the eve of his trial on 14 criminal counts, including three felony counts of lying under oath to a grand jury.
One close friend said that Barry essentially has ruled out the possibility of an agreement with U.S. Atty. Jay B. Stephens on a guilty plea and has reconciled himself to a long court proceeding.
“We’re going to go forward, and we’re not going to let ourselves be coerced or dictated to,” one associate quoted the mayor as saying.
The friend said Barry was surprised by what he called the inflexibility of Stephens’ position during plea negotiations with defense lawyers R. Kenneth Mundy and Robert W. Mance. Stephens could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Barry, 54, was scheduled to spend his last evening before the start of jury selection as he has so many times in the past three months: in a church, surrounded by scores of his staunchest supporters and the songs of gospel choirs.
Barry was arrested Jan. 18 in an FBI drug sting operation at the Vista Hotel, an event that overnight transformed the career of Washington’s three-term incumbent mayor and the entire calculus of local politics in the nation’s capital.
After being charged with possession of crack cocaine, Barry underwent seven weeks of treatment for what he later described as an addiction to alcohol and two prescription drugs, returning to the city in early March with a dramatic appearance that set in motion a nearly nonstop public relations effort designed to keep intact the mayor’s considerable political organization.
Although Barry’s defiance in the face of adversity is a hallmark of a man whose political roots go back 30 years to the civil rights era in the South, Barry has in recent days shown another, more philosophical side that contemplates life without the trappings of the mayor’s office.
For instance, in a series of revealing interviews last week, Barry spoke at length for the first time about how he hopes history will recall his tenure as mayor, an office he has held since 1979. The mayor also has acknowledged, usually in private groups but occasionally to reporters, being nervous and even “scared” about the possible outcome of his trial.
“I’ve decided the only thing I can do is make my best effort,” Barry said on the “One Washington” talk show that is scheduled for broadcast this week. “If my best effort succeeds, fine. If it falls short, that’s all I can do.”
Although several news reports have said Stephens was prepared to accept Barry’s resignation as part of a plea agreement, Stephens has dismissed those accounts, saying through a spokeswoman that the issue of resignation was “irrelevant” to the case.
For his part, Barry has been unequivocal about the possibility of leaving office before his term expires, saying on more than one occasion he would never resign.
The mayor has said privately, however, that he would be willing to abandon his plans for reelection as part of a plea agreement.
Sources have said that Barry has indicated he would be open to a plea to several misdemeanors with the assurance he would not receive a prison sentence.