Pubdate: Tue, 03 Oct 2006
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Page: B01
Copyright: 2006 The Washington Post Company
Author: Marc Fisher, Metro Columnist


Two rooms, one block apart, two worlds:

In the federal courthouse downtown, a platoon of lawyers, representing
easily $10,000 in nicely tailored wool suits, wage battle over the
government's three-year investigation of Douglas Jemal, the daring
developer who has done more than anyone else in Washington's private
sector to transform a dead downtown into an alluring, vibrant cityscape.

Day after dreary day, before a jury that is nodding off and zoning
out, government lawyers painstakingly plow through invoice after
invoice -- janitorial services, building contractors, repairmen --
trying to build a case that Jemal ripped off the District's taxpayers
by bribing a city official and landing highly profitable city leases.

Tens of thousands of documents sit on shelf after shelf of binders,
and a blizzard of invoices and tax forms roll by on fancy flat-screen
monitors -- all over a bunch of Wizards tickets, a Rolex and some nice
dinners. Most of the time, nobody watches except relatives of the
accused and people who are paid to be in the courtroom. Somebody wants
Jemal taken down, and you and I get to pay the freight.

One block away, in D.C. Superior Court, in a noisy, dirty courtroom
where every seat is always taken, the lawyers are at a lower pay
grade: The suits are off the shelf; a skirt has a split in the rear.
And the matter at hand is one of life, death and wrenching questions
about who we are and why we live the way we do.

This is the trial of the two men who allegedly killed Princess Hansen,
the 14-year-old girl who died because she had witnessed another
killing and somebody decided that she had to be silenced before she

In this room, the jurors are riveted. Here, we all descend into a
world of despair and dysfunction.

Shawnta Collier, 23, testifying about a murder that took place outside
her apartment door in the terrifying Northwest Washington neighborhood
known as Sursum Corda, tells the jury that the dead man, Mario Evans,
earned money by "doing his thing."

"What was his thing?" asks prosecutor Michelle Jackson.

"On the streets."

"Did he sell drugs on the streets?"

"Mm-hmm," Collier says, with a big smile.

A room full of knowing titters quickly hushes as Collier is presented
with a big color photo of Evans lying face up in a pool of his own

As in that other room a block away, there are characters here who once
seemed larger than life. Doug Jemal works this town on guts, gall and
a little bit of greed. He traverses his city in gaudy Western boots,
driving a big black pickup truck, downing big steaks, taking big
gambles on properties more cautious developers won't touch. Jemal, 63,
put retailers back in the empty old Woodies building, built a block of
stores on Seventh Street NW when no one else would go near the place,
saved the Avalon Theatre in Chevy Chase, rescued the Sixth & I Street
Historic Synagogue, and on and on.

The defendants in the Princess Hansen case, Marquette Ward and
Franklin Thompson, were nicknamed Corleone and Nitti after Hollywood's
Godfather and the real-life Al Capone henchman. But these guys never
built a thing. They were worms in the drug trade, small-time thugs
only as powerful as the weapons in their waistbands.

Yet they were almost heroic figures in Sursum Corda. When Timika
Destiny Holiday, 21, tells the jury that she saw Ward shoot Evans
because of a $10 price dispute over a PCP dipper, prosecutor Deborah
Sines asks the witness if she had a relationship with Ward.

"It wasn't a relationship. We just had sexual intercourse," Holiday

Minutes later, Holiday testifies that Hansen, too, had sex with Ward.
Who was also the 14-year-old's marijuana supplier. That's fourteen.

In this courtroom, the rules of life seem much looser than at the
Jemal trial. When a defense lawyer argues that the Hansen jury should
learn about PCP that was missing from the pocket of a dead drug
dealer, Judge Wendell Gardner scoffs: "Of course it'd be missing.
That's money. PCP is money. You think they're going to let the PCP
walk out the door in the policeman's pocket? Oh, come on."

Money in this world comes in the form of the stacks of cash that
dealers carry. Holiday describes Evans's stack by holding her thumb
and forefinger apart. The prosecutor characterizes that as "two
inches," but the defense lawyer wants the witness's own description.
Is it two inches? Holiday, a high school dropout, demurs. She hasn't a
clue what an inch is.

In the Jemal trial, discussion of money takes place on another plane
entirely. Here, dissecting a world of refinancings and lines of
credit, jurors are asked to find nefarious deeds in a forest of
invoices for bits of construction work and cleaning services.

Jemal's trial will drag on for weeks. "This is 39 witnesses already,"
he told me after court one day. "What a waste. Go ahead, pay some more

Jemal will likely walk. If he did commit crimes, he should be
punished, but the ledger of Jemal's life will still show far more
successes than infractions. And what will have been accomplished? A
whole lot of lawyers will be a whole lot richer. If Jemal's daring is
diminished, the city's progress will be stunted. And the public will
know what everyone already knew: Jemal isn't much for rules.

The Hansen trial will likely end with two more bad guys going away for
a long time. And life in Sursum Corda will change not even those two
inches that a 21-year-old woman couldn't fathom. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake