Jury deliberating in Zabel murder case

Published 5:43 pm Tuesday, December 8, 2015

By Joseph A. Slobodzian, The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — The fate of Marcellus “Ant North” Jones — the convicted South Philadelphia robber accused of killing aspiring Minnesota teacher Beau Zabel in 2008 for his iPod — is up to a Philadelphia jury.

Beau Zabel

Beau Zabel

The Common Pleas Court jury got the case late Tuesday afternoon, one week after the trial started and hours after Jones spent a contentious hour denying anything to do with killing Zabel, 23, or the subsequent murder of a 19-year-old man prosecutors say was Jones’ getaway driver.

Email newsletter signup

After instructions in the law from Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi, the 10 women and 2 men on the jury met just long enough to decide to go home and begin deliberations Wednesday morning.

Jones, 37, who has regularly interrupted the trial, his lawyer and the judge, told the jury that he was “being railroaded” and did not wish to testify in his defense.

Nevertheless, Jones stayed on the stand, sometimes verbally sparring with the prosecutor but more often making rambling free-form speeches about being unjustly tried.

“I did not wish to testify,” Jones told the jury. “I was forced to testify because they allowed me no way to disprove this.”

Then, Jones jumped into his defense: Those who testified earlier that he boasted about killing Zabel and the alleged getaway driver, Tyrek Taylor, were lying or mistaken. Some of that testimony came from Jones’ sister.

Jones even argued that the official court transcript of his 2012 trial in which he was convicted of murdering Taylor was inaccurate. “I never gave this testimony,” Jones told Assistant District Attorney Jacqueline Juliano Coelho. “This is somehow, some kind of fraudulent document  …  That’s a mistake by the stenographer.”

Jones argued — often interrupting his attorney, Richard J. Giuliani, and the judge — that he had been prevented from calling witnesses, and denied a chance to present evidence from his cellphone that would prove he was not near the murder scene when Zabel was killed.

Zabel was gunned down just before 1:30 a.m. June 15, 2008, on the 800 block of Ellsworth Street in South Philadelphia. He had been walking home after finishing a shift at a local Starbucks.

Jones finished his denial with: “Now, I am unwilling to answer any questions from the Commonwealth.”

DeFino-Nastasi told Jones otherwise and said she would order the jury to disregard everything he just said if he did not answer questions from the prosecutor.

Coelho then tried for most of the 60 minutes to get Jones to admit he even knew the witnesses who testified that he acknowledged killing Zabel and Taylor — including his sister, her longtime boyfriend, and an ex-friend and former fellow inmate who said he had known Jones since childhood.

“I know of them, but I don’t know them,” Jones said.

His sister, he added, “testified under duress.”

After Jones left the witness stand, Giuliani put on the record that he worked with Jones’ family to find four witnesses Jones said would disprove the case against him. Two lived in South Carolina and could not be located, another could not be found, and the fourth was a fugitive.

Giuliani and Assistant District Attorney Tracie Gaydos also stipulated that an official of Jones’ cellphone carrier, T-Mobile, reported it no longer had cellphone records for any numbers before 2012.

Jones’ testimony was followed immediately by closing arguments.

Giuliani urged the jury not to be swayed by sympathy over the nationally publicized slaying of Zabel, an outgoing Drexel University teaching fellow — set to start teaching that fall — who moved to Philadelphia from his hometown of Austin, Minnesota, six weeks before his death.

Giuliani also attacked the credibility of the witnesses who testified about Jones’ alleged admissions, whom he described as opportunists looking to get out of prison, accumulate good will with prosecutors, or, in Jones’ sister’s case, regain custody of her children.

“When you go back and look at the facts in this case, there are real problems with the Commonwealth’s theory,” Giuliani told the jury.

Arguing for acquittal, Giuliani gestured toward his client and said: “It doesn’t mean that Marcellus Jones is a good guy. Nope, not all. It’s a comment on the evidence.”

Coelho argued that, despite their criminal records and character flaws, the prosecution witnesses corroborated each other about what they said Jones admitted to them.

“Who is he going to confide in? Who is he going to tell that truth to?” asked Coelho, adding, “I’m not the one who picks who that man confides in.”

The case sat cold for five years because of a lack of DNA or other physical evidence linking anyone to the crime. That ended, prosecutors maintained, after Jones killed Taylor to prevent him from talking, and after Jones admitted to family and friends that he had killed Zabel.

Jones is serving a life prison term without parole for killing Taylor in September 2008.