WASHINGTON (CN) – In a secret motel room meeting in 1994, federal agents offered Rayful Edmond III the opportunity to cooperate with the government but told the D.C. drug kingpin the help he gave would not change his life sentence.
One of the biggest dealers of cocaine and crack cocaine in the nation’s capital during the late 1980s, Edmond went on to help on hundreds of drug and homicide cases. This past February, federal prosecutors asked a federal judge to reduce Edmond’s sentence to 40 years.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan opened the hearing on that request in a courtroom with heightened security Wednesday, saying none of the cases in his decades on the bench compared to this one.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine’s office had conducted a widespread campaign over the summer to let D.C. residents weigh in on the possible sentence reduction. The city was split: 50.4% supported a reduction for Edmond and 49.6% opposed.
“I’ve read the comments,” Sullivan said. “It’s clear people were speaking from the heart.”
But Edmond’s attorney Jason Downs argued residents polled were not informed on the over 100 indictments against 340 defendants Edmond helped secure over 24 years of cooperation. Downs, a former D.C. public defender, argued Sullivan should reduce his client’s sentence to 15 years.
Downs laid out how Edmond’s cooperation helped solve cold-case homicides and included critical information that helped investigators obtain wiretap permits that led to indictments.
“To be quite candid, you’re asking for a lot. But I’m going to keep an open mind,” Sullivan told Edmond. “You have an excellent lawyer.”
Returning to his hometown for the first time in 17 years, Edmond sat with ankles bound, flashing an occasional smile at family and friends who packed the courtroom.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Crabb meanwhile argued 40 years was already a substantial reduction to a life sentence.
No matter the outcome, Edmond must serve a separate 30-year sentence for drug dealing while inside a Pennsylvania prison.
Crabb reminded Sullivan he must set aside any testimony heard Wednesday on covert operations Edmond carried out from the Pennsylvania prison after he began cooperating since it’s outside the scope of the D.C. case. Sullivan can, however, weigh the impact of help Edmond gave and prison reforms he helped implement.
Sullivan asked questions at a steady clip throughout the daylong hearing, which included testimony from law enforcement and civilian witnesses and a childhood friend who grew up with Edmond in Northeast Washington.
Two agents from the fateful meeting in the summer of 1994 took the stand to testify that in their work with hundreds of cooperators, Edmond was extraordinary.
“He was part of the team,” said retired FBI agent Steve Benjamin nearly 30 years after his first encounter with Edmond in the motel room.
Retired police officer Rick Watkins testified Edmond “never faltered,” always providing information that pointed the investigative teams in the right direction.
Both men remembered Edmond breaking down in the motel room. “He wanted out of the game,” Watkins said.
Edmond testified he was eager to jump on the opportunity to cooperate despite the risks it posed.
“I just felt sick about it,” Edmond said. “I was hurting people and I had already hurt my family.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Dominguez testified Edmond helped bring down some of the biggest players in the drug underworld at a high risk to his personal safety.
“If they find out, he isn’t going to live past lunch time,” Dominguez said. “They’ll just shank him.”
Dominguez said that once the public learned of Edmond’s cooperation, he began working to ensure the safety of Edmond’s family.
“It was just great fortune that they didn’t suffer any disastrous consequences when his cooperation came out,” the attorney said.
Members of Edmond’s family were tied up in the drug operation of the 1980s and served time in prison. But none have returned to life behind bars.
“His family has escaped that statistical pit,” Dominguez said.
He acknowledged Edmond “left a legacy of death and destruction in his hometown” but said that as a cooperator, Edmond was superlative.
“Smart as any Fortune 500 CEO” and with “natural charisma that matched any of our national politicians,” Dominguez said of Edmond.
Three D.C. clergy members also testified Wednesday that Edmond brokered a truce from prison between rival gangs in the Simple City neighborhood of southeast Washington. They urged Sullivan to consider the future role Edmond could play in counseling at-risk youth.
“Rayful Edmond is an iconic individual in this city,” the Rev. William Wilson said. “Young people know about him, even those that were not born when he was incarcerated.”
Asked by Sullivan about his plans for his future, Edmond, now 54, said, “I just want to give back. It’s not about me. My best years are behind me.”
Sullivan requested further documents from both sides Wednesday and set a schedule that will likely mean a ruling on the sentence reduction in early 2020.