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Potential Barry Case Jurors Face Battery of Questions

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Selection of a jury began Monday in the drug use and perjury trial of Mayor Marion Barry amid reports that plea bargaining talks have broken down.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson distributed written questionnaires to 250 prospective jurors who will be screened for what is expected to be a monthlong trial. Reflecting more in-depth probing because of the sensitivity of the case, the questionnaires asked potential jurors about their attitudes toward drug use and alcoholism, whether anyone close to them has been chemically addicted and what they think about someone lying after “having taken an oath to tell the truth.”

Jackson said that he and attorneys in the case would begin questioning members of the jury pool individually this morning in search of an “unbiased and unprejudiced” 12-member jury and six alternate jurors. The process will take several days, he said.

Barry, avoiding reporters, entered the U.S. Courthouse through a side entrance accompanied by his wife, Effi. The mayor, who has been in office for 12 years, reportedly has been willing to plead guilty to several misdemeanors involving the use of cocaine, but U.S. Atty. Jay B. Stephens has said that any plea agreement must include at least one felony, which could involve a prison term.

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A plea bargain still could develop later this week, although sources said that the two sides presently are far apart.

Of the 14 charges facing Barry, three are felonies charging that he lied by denying under oath to a federal grand jury that he ever had used cocaine.

The other counts are misdemeanors involving 10 charges of drug possession and one charge of conspiracy to use cocaine.

While some of the mayor’s past associates are expected to testify about his drug use dating back to 1984, the government has described as its most graphic evidence an hourlong FBI videotape, taken with a hidden camera. The videotape allegedly shows Barry smoking crack cocaine with a former girlfriend, model Rasheeda Moore, in a hotel room last January.

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Barry said in a local radio interview Monday that such invasions of his privacy are akin to “a totalitarian kind of society.” He previously accused the FBI of endangering his life by providing Moore with powerful cocaine and cognac that was to be offered him.

Government attorneys have responded in court that Barry voluntarily used the drug.

One of the 69 questions being asked of prospective jurors seeks their opinion “about the fairness of law enforcement agencies using concealed video and audio recording devices during the course of an undercover investigation.”

If convicted on all counts, Barry could be sentenced to a maximum term of 26 years in prison and subjected to fines of more than $1.8 million. Incarceration after conviction of any crime also would prevent him from seeking a fourth term in office this year.

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