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Defendant in Beau Zabel murder trial takes the stand: I didn't do it

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

Marcellus Jones (left) is on trial in the death of Beau Zabel.
Marcellus Jones (left) is on trial in the death of Beau Zabel.Read more

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

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

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

Jones, 37, who had 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, saying that those who had testified that Jones 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 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 on Tuesday. "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 had been denied a chance to present evidence from his cellphone that he said 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 was walking home after finishing a shift at a local Starbucks store.

Jones finished his denial with, "Now, I am unwilling to answer any questions from the commonwealth."

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

Coelho then tried for most of 60 minutes to get Jones to admit he even knew the witnesses who had testified that Jones had acknowledged killing Zabel and Taylor. In addition to Jones' sister, they included her longtime boyfriend, and a 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, Jones added, "testified under duress."

After Jones left the witness stand, Giuliani put on the record that he had worked with Jones' family to find four witnesses Jones said would disprove the case against him. They could not be located, he said.

Giuliani and Assistant District Attorney Tracie Gaydos also stipulated that an official from T-Mobile, Jones' cellphone carrier, reported that it no longer has records prior to 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 in 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 goodwill with prosecutors; or, in the case of Jones' sister, 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's witnesses corroborated each other about what they said Jones had admitted to them.

"Who is he going to confide in? Who is he going to tell that truth to?" Coelho asked, 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. That ended, prosecutors said, 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.

215-854-2985 @joeslobo