Wergy tergy! Judge gives Baltimore drug lord Anthony Ayeni Jones a small sip of sympathy
The nation’s most secure prison is officially known as United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, but most simply call it ADX Florence or, to be colorful, the “Alcatraz of the Rockies.” Located in Fremont County, Colorado, near the small city of Florence, in it live almost 500 of the best known names in the annals of infamy. Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, 9-11 bombing conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols, Soviet spy Robert Hanssen, Gulf Cartel leader Juan Garcia Abrego, Bonanno crime family boss Vincent Basciano, Aryan Brotherhood prison gang founders Tyler Bingham and Barry Mills, and H. Rap Brown, the 1960s civil-rights militant whose checkered career culminated in the 2000 shooting in Georgia of two African-American sheriff’s deputies, one of whom died – they’re all there, serving life sentences.
Given the terrorists and spies and cop killers there, it might seem an odd place to send an East Baltimore drug lord with notches on his gun. After all, every city has a few of those. But there he is: Anthony Ayeni Jones, now 40 years old, who received four life sentences after 1998 jury convictions over his deadly career as a youthful gangster whose $30,000-a-day drug operation killed more than a dozen people. While in prison on gun charges in 1997, awaiting trial on the racketeering and murder charges, Jones sent coded assassination orders against associates he suspected were snitches – and even ordered their mothers executed. So, yes, he was more fearsome than your average gangster.
“Yergy, I mean the nergy got thergy fergy ergy,” was one of Jones’ coded messages, issued over a prison phone, and it resulted quickly in the 1997 execution of his stepbrother, John Jones, who had become a police cooperator – the only order from prison that resulted in an actual murder.
A Baltimore City police officer on Jones’ payroll, Erick McCrary, was convicted of witness tampering and released from federal prison in 2002. If there were other cops in Jones’ fold, none were accused.
Jones was spared the death sentence by his jury, but U.S. District judge William Nickerson placed special restrictions on Jones’ life-long term. As Jones describes them in a motion filed in January to relax them, Nickerson ordered that he “have entirely no outside world contact whatsoever” and that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) hold him “under extreme restrictive conditions.” Jones characterizes his confinement as being “buried alive,” and says “even prisoners on death row have some degree of outside world contact.”
Today, Nickerson gave Jones some ground, writing in an order that “with the passage of time, some modifications of the current conditions would be appropriate.” The judge ruled that Jones “should be permitted contact with other prisoners;” that, “in addition to supervised visits with his attorneys and mother,” he “should be permitted supervised visits with other members of his family;” and that he “should be permitted telephone communications with his mother and daughter.”
But Nickerson “disagrees” with Jones’ contentions, contained in his motion, “that the conditions placed upon his confinement are arbitrary, irrational, cruel and unusual, and have been imposed in a discriminatory manner in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution,” the order states.
Jones’ motion claims only minorities, not whites, are subjected to such tight BOP restrictions. “White mobsters are under no such restrictions, despite obvious evidence of ongoing criminal activity, including ordering murders from prison,” he writes. Neither are “white terrorist bombers with considerable followings,” Michael Rudkin, “a white man convicted of conspiring to murder a federal agent while housed in the BOP,” or Matthew Hale, “a white supremacist convicted of solicitation to kill a federal judge.” He adds that “out of the many high ranking members and others of the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood gang convicted of ordering numerous murders from ADX and other prisons, not one member is under the drastic … prescription imposed on minorities.”
The way Jones sees it, there is “no substantial evidence” that he has “engaged or attempted to engage in any additional criminal activity, either inside or outside the prison,” he writes, and “the government cannot provide the court with sufficient evidence” that he is “likely or able to order additional murders from prison.”
“After 16 long years of solitary confinement with virtually no outside contact,” Jones writes, he “certainly has a legitimate psychological need, desire, and entitlement to some degree of outside world contact.”
Jones’ attorney, Paul Polansky, tried unsuccessfully in 2009 to ease the restrictions placed on his client, writing in a motion that “anyone who has a real understanding of the criminal milieu” would know that Jones “simply does not continue to have the kind of influence that he had ten years ago. The fact is, that Anthony Jones, if remembered at all, is old news.”
Jones’ prosecutor, assistant U.S. attorney Robert Harding, previously had opposed any changes in Jones’ restrictions, but now states in a in a letter to Nickerson, filed March 12, that the government’s position on the matter has changed. While the restrictions “were amply justified by the simple fact that one of the three murders Mr. Jones was convicted of committed involved Jones ordering the murder of a federal grand jury witness by making a phone call from a federal correctional institution,” now “the government acknowledges that the sheer passage of time may have reduced the threat Jones poses.”
Interestingly, despite being in solitary confinement, Jones has been able to get an education at ADX Florence. His filing includes “certificates of achievement” for classes, such as “Ancients Behaving Badly,” “Events That Changed History,” “The Rights of Man,” “The Planets,” “How the Earth Works,” “World’s Greatest Paintings,” “National Parks,” “Engineering Disasters,” “The Wild West,” and – one that seems almost poetic, given the arc of Jones’ life – “The Rise and Fall of Rome.”