Mayor Barry: Lurid Tales Of The Tape

The lighting was bad, the figures blurred, the sound barely audible. But however murky, the long-awaited and much ballyhooed "sting video" in the Marion Barry trial delivered what prosecutors had promised: pictures of the mayor of Washington, D.C., caught in the act of smoking crack cocaine. Even after two weeks of lurid testimony alleging continual drug use and compulsive womanizing by the mayor, the hidden-camera tape was shocking. There, in stark black and white, was the highest elected city official of the nation's capital, a role model in the fight against drugs and crime who had often sermonized about the value of clean living, taking two long pulls from a crack pipe and getting busted in a blur of FBI agents and local police. In the closing scenes, the mayor, handcuffed and slumped forward in the familiar posture of the jail-bound, curses the former model who had lured him into the trap. "That goddam bitch," he said. "Tricked me like a motherf--."

The 83-minute video transfixed the jury and, as local TV stations started airing and re-airing excerpts, quickly became the hottest show in town. It also became the focal point of the trial's central controversy: whether the government overzealously pursued the mayor because of his race and position and went too far in using Moore to set him up last January at the Vista Hotel. In several key moments during the encounter, Barry indeed seemed more interested in having sex than doing drugs, initially resisting Moore's suggestions that they smoke crack. "I don't smoke no more, honey," he said at one point. Later, Barry claimed not to know how to use a crack pipe and, perhaps suspicious, refused to light up unless Moore went first. When she declined, the mayor finally took his hits, with an apparently practiced hand. Strictly speaking, that reluctance does not add up to entrapment. But the jury might still decide Moore pushed Barry too hard (she conceded in cross-examination that she went beyond the FBI's instructions). "This tape is a mixed bag," says Abbe Lowell, a federal prosecutor turned defense attorney.

Even so, the videotape represents only a small part of the case against Barry. The mayor faces a total of 11 drug charges and three perjury counts; the perjury charges are felonies that carry mandatory jail time. The tape followed two weeks of detailed I testimony that portrayed Barry as a Fidgety drug addict, eager to snort cocaine or smoke crack any time, almost any place. Former city employee Charles Lewis, a convicted drug dealer, said he and Barry frequently smoked crack together both in Washington and in the Virgin Islands; several women who met Barry in the Caribbean testified about boat trips, parties and hotel-room meetings where, they said, Barry used drugs himself or watched Lewis use drugs (the perjury charges stem from grandjury testimony by Barry that he never took drugs and never knew Lewis did). Jurors may also be influenced by Barry's treatment of women. One witness cried as she described the mayor forcing her to have sex in a Virgin Islands hotel room. Another said Barry gave her coke moments after she met him. At the time, she said, Barry was watching an X-rated movie on TV; then he made a pass at her.

Coke closet: Most damaging of all was Moore's recital of a two-year affair with the mayor. According to the former model, she and Barry used drugs "at least 100 times," sometimes three or four times a week. Moore, too, accused Barry of abusive behavior, saying Barry once struck her during an argument, knocking her to the floor. After that, Moore said, she broke off the sexual side of their relationship but the pair continued to take drugs together. Once, she said, she delivered cocaine to Barry at his city-hall office. She also testified that the mayor's security men--part of the police department--sometimes drove her to pick up drugs or baby-sat her three children so she could meet her connection. According to Moore, she and Barry Smoked or snorted coke with little regard to their surroundings: they once did cocaine in a closet at her mother's house on Mother's Day, smoked crack in Moore's living room while her children slept on the sofa, smoked crack at the home of a local minister (who was sick in bed upstairs). Barry, says Moore, hid cocaine and drug paraphernalia under his rug, in a vacuumcleaner bag and in his shoes.

Many Washington blacks who viewed the tape--and perhaps the mostly black jury, too--were struck most by the fact that all the agents arresting Barry were white. On Friday, Barry himself played the race angle. The mayor denounced Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson for barring controversial black religious figures Louis Farrakhan and Bishop George Stallings (a fiery ex-Roman Catholic priest who formed his own liberal church) from the trial, the judge claimed their presence would be disruptive and might intimidate the jury. "It's like Nazi Germany," the mayor said. But while many blacks--and whites--in Washington were disturbed by the government's sting operation, with its peeping-Tom undertones, most said they found the image of their mayor smoking crack devastating and profoundly sad. Judging by the testimony so far, Barry seems to be no one's victim but his own.