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Things we learned at the Tommy Edelin trial

Imagine that you’re a juror in the Tommy Edelin trial. Since 9:49 a.m. on May 7, you’ve faced Tommy Edelin and five other alleged members of his 1-5 Mob, including his father, Earl, four days a week. You’ve listened to the careful testimony of government informants, FBI agents, crime technicians, and grieving friends and relatives. You’ve nearly fallen asleep as the 93-count indictment was read. You’ve marveled at the way prosecutor Stephen Pfleger makes gunshot noises—bap!bap!bap!—with his mouth. You are often confused by the fact that every witness, every dealer, every connection to Edelin’s crew has a nickname: “Magoo,” “Fat Boo,” “Egg and Cheese.” You’ve noted that Judge Royce C. Lamberth has given defense attorney Richard Gilbert his own moniker: “Map Man.” You’ve wondered why Tommy and his father are almost always smiling.

But when the District’s first death-penalty trial in almost 30 years ends this week, what will you and the other jurors actually remember?

For his part, Tommy Edelin will remember the strip searches on his way in and out of the courtroom every day. He must search his own cavities himself: He must spread his buttocks with his hands first, then pull open his mouth. He will remember also that the guards never let him wash his hands. The other alleged crew members will remember being paraded through the jail in see-through paper jumpsuits, or getting fevers during the trial and taking medication for stress. Earl Edelin will remember dealing with his tuberculosis.

Of course, you haven’t felt those fevers. The trial, although at times painfully slow, has moved at a methodical clip. There have been surprise admissions from the snitches; they have all connected the appropriate dots, pointed their fingers at the appropriate defendants, and acted appropriately humble. The prosecutors have processed neatly through aerial maps, taped conversations, shell casings, and autopsies. There have been pictures of Tommy and his Benz, Tommy and his Jeep, Tommy and his jewelry. The prosecutors’ delivery has felt like a Ken Burns documentary—a little cold, a little bloodless, a little out of touch. You’ve never been sure if Tommy ever went beyond being just another drug kingpin into being that somebody you’d feel comfortable executing.

Prosecutors have never shown that Edelin actually killed anyone. What do you do to a guy who didn’t actually kill? What do you do to a guy whose alleged hired killers took deals, made plea bargains, and testified? You start by going back to what you remember. You start at the beginning.

Tommy Edelin started small. When he wasn’t picking fights at skating rinks and go-gos, Tommy and his Young Young Crew played electronic football. He met his right-hand man and alleged enforcer, Thaddeus Foster, riding bikes and hanging out in the same game room near 15th Place SE. They would play Pac-Man and “galaxy games,” and buy candy bars, according to Foster.

The Young Young Crew started big. According to Foster’s testimony, the crew was made up of the following members: Eric Jones, Speedo, Bay-Bay, Coy, Antwaun, Monkey Mark, Keith, Keith McGill, Duane David, Darnell, Squid, Shorty, and T.I.

The Young Young Crew trained at D.C. museums. When not picking fights, the crew headed to the Mall to fleece tour groups. “We would talk to the girls and talk to the guys, find out how long they was going to be in D.C.,” Foster testified. “If they was, like, in D.C. for a couple of days or this was their last day…then we would probably like take the guys’ jackets, you know, take their jewelry, like little chains and stuff. But if they was going to be there for a couple of days or a week or so then we would, like, select little girls. So we had throughout the week as we go down there each day, and, like, feel on the girls, you know, little things like that.”

Coke turned into a crack revolution. At the start of his alleged crack-dealing career, Tommy Edelin turned to Violet Ball. She was one of the first on the block to figure out how to make crack. Cocaine or “shake” became Jamaican rock, which then became crack. “We soon found out that there was a liquor store called 51 that was selling the rocks,” Ball stated. “And they were doing business like I don’t know. You would have thought that was Central Park.” Kids pushing dope were treated to “McDonald’s, sweat suits, tennis shoes, movies, amusement-type things,” according to Ball.

Selling rock is easy. One witness, Thomas “Mussie” Sims, testified that Earl Edelin used to brag about his son Tommy. Used to say his son was a millionaire by the time he was 18.

Where the police won’t look. In an effort to keep their drugs, Jones and Ball would hide their stash in the toilet. “The toilet was stopped up grossly with feces and urine. So if the police came in, we put it in a Ziploc bag, zip it up, stuff it in that nasty toilet. Probably get, unfortunately, somebody on crack or something to get it out for us,” Ball testified. The police never took a plunger to the mess. “No, no, they wouldn’t do that,” she testified. “You know, it was just too gross.”

Cops have heavy feet. Dealers and dopers would clear out of Congress Park when the cops drove through. The police jump-outs became a ritual. “Jump-outs were basically Tuesdays and Thursdays,” Ball recalled. “We all know that on Tuesdays and Thursdays, you had to be extra careful because of the jump-outs….We all knew.”

Dealers = family. Ball considered the dealers for whom she cooked crack her family: “We grew very close. It’s what I call ”hood sons’—you know, ‘He was a ‘hood son of mine.’”

Earl Edelin is a family man. Tommy’s half-brother Gerald Edelin was asked how many brothers and sisters he had. He stated: “Say, 23.” When asked on the stand if he were the oldest child, he stated: “To the best of my knowledge, yes.”

Intimidating a witness is easy. After robbing John “White Boy” Bush, a fellow dealer and alleged Tommy Edelin accomplice, James Faison wanted to make sure Bush wouldn’t cooperate with the police. Faison testified that he found Bush and followed him along Alabama Avenue SE. Bush ended up at the 7th District police station. But that didn’t stop Faison. Bush stood in front of the station, talking with an officer. Then Faison walked over to his target and asked to speak with him. “I asked him was he going to testify,” Faison stated. “He said no. And I told him because if he do, I was going to kill him. He looked scared.”

Drinking can be a problem. Every day at age 16, Faison testified, he would drink “maybe four 40 ounces a day and take a part in maybe a fifth of vodka or some Redeye’s Rose.” At the age of 28, he suffered renal failure, and he has been hooked up to a dialysis machine for three days a week during the past seven years.

Murder can be quick. On the evening of Aug. 27, 1993, Faison testified, he and Ronnie “Squid” Middleton took Emmanuel Bennett to a hill above Suitland Parkway. They told Bennett that they were going to rob another man, but when they got to the top of the hill, Faison spied a brick, picked it up, and smacked Bennett with it. “I thought it would be easier to knock him out with a brick and then shoot him and kill him,” stated Faison. “He came up and took a few steps backwards and was…like he was trying to block, in case I was going to swing again. And he made a statement like, ‘Oh, what’s going on?’” Middleton then shot Bennett in the head one time with a .410 shotgun, according to Faison. “Once I seen him fall, I turned and threw the brick in the woods, and we took off running.”

Murder can be cheap. Faison testified that Tommy Edelin promised him $1,000 for Bennett’s murder. He ended up with only $125.

Murder can sound like nothing at all. One night, Middleton showed up at Monkey Mark’s house after another alleged hit done at Tommy Edelin’s request. Faison testified that he was there, too, drinking. “I just killed Reesy,” Middleton told him. “I’m like, ‘For real?’” Faison recalled. “And he was like, ‘Yeah.’”

Murder can be damn near impossible. Faison testified that Tommy Edelin hired him and Middleton to kill a man called “Black,” because Edelin believed that Black was an informant. Faison testified that Middleton invited Black to ride with him over to Southeast in a Nissan Maxima. After driving for a while, Middleton, Faison, Black, and Black’s friend “Idaho” stopped at 19th Street. “I pulled the gun out and told them they was about to die, told them to pull over,” Faison stated. “[Idaho] stopped the car. I stepped out the car. When I looked back, Squid and Black was wrestling for the gun. I started shooting Idaho, emptied my clip, and when I got finished shooting him, I pointed the gun at Black, told him to let go of they gun because they was still wrestling.” Middleton shot Black, and the two shooters took off running. When they looked back at the shot-up car, it was moving. “I couldn’t believe it was pulling off….I thought we killed them,” Faison recalled. Black and Idaho both survived the shooting.

Volante Smith was just a girl. Lolita Fletcher testified that she grew up with Volante Smith. They hung out together a lot—until Smith and her brother Rodney, both innocent bystanders, were shot and killed as they sat in traffic along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, allegedly by Tommy Edelin associate Bryan Bostick. Volante was 14. This is what Fletcher remembers about her time with Volante: “[We] just hung out. Regular girl things. Talk about boys. Listen to music.”

The Young Young Crew had its own Big Pussy. In late 1996, Sims was locked up on his second gun-possession charge—a charge that could merit serious jail time. He was approached by a prosecutor about cooperating with an investigation into Tommy Edelin’s crew. Sims agreed to cooperate—sort of. He testified that he hoped to “play the 50,” meaning both sides: Edelin and the law. He told the prosecutor he had dealt drugs for Edelin, but he did not admit to any murders.

Prosecutors and FBI agents put Sims back out on the streets on Dec. 19, 1996, with an agreement that he would set up Tommy Edelin. Instead, Sims steered them to Guy Banks, a dealer who had no connection with Edelin. Sims arranged a deal with Banks, drove and met him in an FBI-issued Lexus coupe, and was ready to pay the guy for drugs. Unfortunately, the compartment that held his marked bills wouldn’t open. The deal fell through, and Banks, who by then was suspicious that Sims was hot, refused to work with him again.

Big Pussy played the FBI. Sims testified that he continued to keep the FBI at bay. He received reimbursement for food and rent and clothes from them. But in truth, he didn’t need the money. He was still hustling, selling drugs and guns. He was still working with Earl and Gerald Edelin. In between hustles, he got busted with a pot-possession charge. That case would be thrown out. On March 8, 1997, he admitted, he killed Antonio “Bam” Thomas. The FBI found out about the murder, and Sims was brought back before a federal court judge. Prosecutors pleaded with the judge that Sims had learned the error of his ways, that in the interests of justice—in getting Tommy Edelin—Sims should be released to a halfway house. The judge didn’t buy it—and put Sims behind bars.

Big Pussy played Tommy Edelin. After Sims got busted for the murder of Thomas, he agreed again to cooperate: to contact Tommy and Earl Edelin, meet with them, and wear a wire. Sims testified that he met Tommy at Tommy’s Drama City Records studio. A videotape of John Gotti played on TV. The two went to an office and talked. Edelin seemed worried. The police had gotten to his brother Gerald. He knew they were after him. And he suspected that Sims was now a snitch. He disowned his hustling. “Fuck that stuff, man,” he told Sims. “Fuck that, ain’t worth no amount of money. You can’t pay a guy for his freedom…I feel like this—10 or better, only if it’s 10 or better, man. I ain’t doing no running.” Tommy Edelin said he wanted to buy some land, get a house. He admitted he still had stash spots for his kilos of coke. But he wanted to move away from all that.

Big Pussy played Earl Edelin. Sims knew that there was no way Tommy Edelin would deal with him. He testified that he then went to Earl Edelin’s house in Forestville, Md., on June 16, 1997. On an FBI audiotape, Earl talked openly about the murder of a drug-turf enemy, Tweety (“You know the Bird is gone”), about getting some guns, and about taking care of other snitches. He told Sims that people thought he was hot, but he claimed not to believe them. The tapes show Earl Edelin at his most paranoid. He trashed Middleton as a poor hustler and called Jones a “bitch.” Their tightknit crew was falling apart. “You know, I’m 49 years old,” he says on the tape. “I know how to handle mines. For real. And I know how to get away with it, too.”

Big Pussy played himself. In July 1997, Sims testified, he shaved his head and tried to escape. He planned to meet up with a friend in New York City, then flee to Jamaica. He didn’t make it out of the D.C. area. After he was caught, FBI agents derisively gave him the code name “Kojak.”

Becoming a snitch makes common sense. Foster testified: “After looking over the details and the evidence that was against me, the things that I was charged with, and going over things fully with my attorney…I saw at that moment that I ain’t stand a chance.”

Snitches still can kill. Gerald Edelin admitted to planning the murder of a guy named “Mo” with his brother Tommy and Middleton. The plot centered on a basic principle: Find Mo and kill him. It didn’t go as planned. According to Gerald Edelin, Tommy told him that “Squid had went down to the residence, set the trash dumpster on fire to see if Mo come out the house. When Mo came out the house, he stood by a police car. [Middleton] was unable to get the job done.”

Even snitches can get high. Faison, Sims, Alfred Holmes Jr., and Damien Green all admitted to smoking weed between their arrests and their trips to the witness stand as government snitches. Sims claimed he got his dope from two corrections officers. Green admitted that he had worked out a pretty good deal selling reefer for canteen money in addition to smoking the stuff. “By me smoking weed, I ain’t think I was messing up my plea agreement,” Green stated. “I mean it’s—drugs is drugs. I was using drugs. I mean, it ain’t like it’s easy to stop smoking weed.”

Even in jail, you can get nice sneakers. Green wanted sneakers. So he picked up the East Bay catalog and placed his order. “My lawyer got them, and then [Sims] went to court and I called him and told him to take the tennis shoes over there to Mussie….

Mussie brung the tennis shoes back. That was, I’d say, about last year sometime.”

Even in jail, you can polish your game. “I play, but when I was on the street I ain’t play,” stated Green. “But since I been locked up, my game got better. My shooting ain’t all that, but my D, I can D.”

Even in jail, you can have bad sex. While awaiting his day on the stand, Green passed the time at the Correctional Treatment Facility getting sneakers and smoking reefer. He also testified that he got a little nookie from a secretary around last Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, the secretary gave him more than the big O. “I had sex with her on a Wednesday,” Green remembered. “That Friday, I knew something wasn’t right. I had a irritated feeling when I got up. It wasn’t—when I pee, it wasn’t burning; I wasn’t pussing or nothing like that—it just had a irritated feeling that you just had to grab.”

Keeping it real can cause problems. In 1997, just a year before Tommy Edelin was locked up, he nurtured hopes of launching a rap career. He made a music video, but he fretted about its content. According to Sims’ testimony, Edelin told him that he regretted using real guns in the video for commercial reasons. “The other video, we had them motherfucking hammers in that jont. Wasn’t nobody trying to fuck around with that jont.” Translation: No stations wanted to play his video, because of the authenticity of the hardware. CP