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vinny nip

vinny nip

Posts : 124
Join date : 2009-01-31




Published: February 10, 1990

John Gotti, who has been described as an icon of the underworld and the nation's top Mafia boss, was pronounced not guilty of assault and conspiracy charges in State Supreme Court in Manhattan yesterday.

For Mr. Gotti, who stared tranquilly at the jury as he heard the verdict, it was the third courtroom victory since 1986, the year that the authorities say he became the head of the Gambino crime family.

After hearing the verdict, law-enforcement officials conceded glumly that the acquittals would magnify Mr. Gotti's reputation for legal invincibility and his status as an impregnable leader of organized crime.

'Nice Job'

Without a glimmer of emotion, his shoulders ramrod straight, Mr. Gotti sat listening as the jury foreman said, ''not guilty'' to four separate charges of assault and two of conspiracy. After the foreman announced that Mr. Gotti's co-defendant, Anthony (Tony Lee) Guerrieri, also was acquitted of the same charges and the jurors had left the courtroom, Mr. Gotti rose from his seat to hug his lawyers and Mr. Guerrieri and kiss them on the cheeks.

''Nice job,'' Mr. Gotti said to his chief counsel, Bruce Cutler.

Soon after, he was rushed from the courthouse at 111 Centre Street and driven in a maroon Cadillac to his main meeting place in Manhattan, the Ravenite social club at 247 Mulberry Street. He was cheered by people in the streets of Little Italy. Thirteen months before and only a few blocks north in SoHo he told an arresting officer, ''Three to one I beat this charge.''

Jury Took Only One Vote

Outside the courtroom, jurors said they had taken only one vote to reach a verdict to acquit the 49-year-old Mr. Gotti of charges he ordered the shooting and wounding of a Manhattan carpenters' union official, John F. O'Connor, in 1986.

Five jurors who agreed to be interviewed said the panel had found little credibility in the prosecution's two main elements: tapes of secretly recorded conversations of Mr. Gotti and the principal witness, James P. McElroy, an admitted murderer and perjurer and an ''enforcer'' for the Westies, a Hell's Kitchen gang.

Several of the jurors, who were sequestered throughout the trial, and who were not required during jury selection to give their full names, also said the tapes were of poor sound quality and difficult to hear.

''Sometimes, I couldn't hear,'' said Richard Silensky, a 41-year-old aspiring actor who works in the mail room at The New York Times. ''Some things I heard on my own that weren't in the transcripts,'' said Mr. Silensky, the only juror who agreed yesterday to be identified by name.

The Manhattan District Attorney, Robert M. Morgenthau, whose office brought the case, said, ''I'm disappointed but I think it was a fair trial.''

''We always recognized that this was a case where you have to rely on electronically recorded conversations and confederates who are not the cream of society,'' Mr. Morgenthau said. ''We knew it wouldn't be easy, but we also thought it was substanial.'' Defense lawyers, who tried to put the prosecution on trial by claiming that Mr. Gotti was being framed by ambitious prosecutors, were exultant.

''The jury was able to see through a created case,'' said Mr. Cutler, who had represented Mr. Gotti in acquittals on Federal racketeering charges in Brooklyn in 1987 and state assault and robbery charge in Queens in 1986.

The prosecution had put great stake in one tape in which Mr. Gotti was purported to have said, ''We're gonna, gonna bust him up.'' Prosecutors maintained that statement was a directive by Mr. Gotti to associates for an assault on Mr. O'Connor in the wake of a labor dispute at a restaurant owned by a Gambino family member.

'Leave Him Alone'

Mr. Silensky said the ''bust him up'' phrase was unconvincing.

''There are other tapes after that that say, 'Leave him alone,' '' Mr. Silensky said.

Another male juror, who asked for anonymity, said he could not understand the tape. ''I don't know if it meant 'bust the union up,' 'bust him up' or 'bust 'em up,' '' he said.

Describing the same tape, a female juror said: ''You couldn't take anything in that tape by itself. You have to place it in context. There has to be a flow that leads somewhere.''

Another female juror, who asked not to be identified, said none of the jurors found Mr. McElroy persuasive.

''McElroy to me was not credible,'' she said in an interview at the Loews Summit Hotel on the East Side, where the jurors had been sequestered. ''I simply did not know what the truth was with this person: a drug addict, a killer.''

On Thursday and yesterday morning, the jurors had most of Mr. McElrory's testimony read back to them. The only witness to link Mr. Gotti to the shooting, Mr. McElroy testified that Mr. Gotti had contracted the assault on Mr. O'Connor to the Westies.

'Reasonable Doubt'

''The Westies were undisciplined,'' a male juror said, referring to testimony at the trial. ''They were wild. They did n't need anybody's permission to kill anybody.''

male juror, who identified himself as an insurance underwriter, said, ''There was nothing to connect Mr. Gotti with what happened - zilch.''

Mr. Silensky added: ''I'm not saying he didn't do it. I'm just saying I had my doubts, and basically we all agreed that we all had a reasonable doubt.''

The jurors said there was no serious dissension during four days of deliberations, even though an unidentified juror had sent a note to the presiding judge on Wednesday night, saying another juror had brought a ''previous bias'' into the jury room.

''That was just a bunch of baloney,'' a male juror said at the Summit Hotel. ''There was no bias.'' Another juror, a man, said of the bias note, ''It was not racial and not ethnic.'' He said a juror decided to write the note ''because he believed another member had difficulty with the concept of being considered innocent until being proven guilty.''

The juror said instructions on resolving their differences from the judge, Acting Justice Edward J. McLaughlin, helped the jury continue deliberations after the note was sent out.

Mr. Silensky and another male juror who were interviewed in the lobby of the courthouse said the jury had no fear of repercussions from organized crime during the deliberations. The prosecutors portrayed Mr. Gotti as a Mafia titan and said he had the power to order assaults.

'Our Best Shot'

A female juror at the Summit Hotel, asked about the prosecution's evidence purporting to show that Mr. Gotti is a mobster, said: ''That was not the question. That was not what he was on trial for.''

The lead prosecutor, Michael G. Cherkasky, said, ''We lost but I thought we gave it our best shot.''

And Ronald Goldstock, the director of the state's Organized Crime Task Force, which obtained much of the prosecution evidence, said, ''It's only a battle, not the war.''

Before the trial, Federal and state investigators said Mr. Gotti was also under investigation for the December 1985 slaying of Paul Castellano, who was then said to be the boss of the Gambino family, and for racketeering.

'We're Ready for It'

After today's court session, Gerald L. Shargel, who represented Mr. Guerrieri, 60, but did much of the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses against Mr. Gotti, added: ''The verdict sends a message to prosecutors that you can't manipulate a case.''

Asked about reports that prosecutors were preparing new charges against Mr. Gotti, Mr. Cutler, said, ''I hope we don't have to go to court again, if we do, we're ready for it.''

The jury heard evidence and arguments presented by the prosecution and defense for 11 days.

They said despite misunderstandings many became close friends and that they were planning to have a reunion party.

Being sequestered, Mr. Silensky said, was taxing. ''The toughest part was being cut off from the rest of the world - TV, friends, family,'' he noted. ''It was a big emotional release when we had come to a conclusion.''

Shortly after the jury finished lunch, at 2:20 P.M. yesterday, Justice McLaughlin announced, ''There is a verdict.'' The courtroom doors were then sealed.

As he waited for the 12 jurors to make their entrance, Mr. Gotti seemed at ease, just as he had during most of the trial. At the defense table he smiled, joking with Mr. Cutler.

When Justice McLaughlin told the bailiffs to bring in the jury, Mr. Gotti, who lists his occupation as that of a roving salesman for a plumbing-contracting company, smoothed the jacket of his double-breasted dark blue silk suit and touched the knot of his red-and-blue patterned tie.

'How Say You?'

A moment before the jury entered, Mr. Gotti began getting to his feet, but Justice McLaughlin motioned to him to remain seated.

The jurors filed into the jury box and at 2:32 P.M., the court clerk, Conrad Martin, asked the foreman, ''Have you reached a verdict?''

The foreman, a tall, balding man in his mid 40's, who was wearing jeans and a short-sleeved white shirt with yellow stripes, rose. In a firm voice the juror, who had been identified only as Golden and as a high school teacher, said. ''Yes, we have.''

The foreman took a deep breath and his voice resounding in the hushed courtroom said, ''We find him not guilty.'' A group of spectators broke into applause.

As the foreman announced the other not guilty verdicts, there was more applause and a spectator shouted, ''Yeah, Johnny.''

Interrupting the verdict pronouncements, Justice McLaughlin warned the spectators about outbursts.

V.I.P. Treatment

''Folks, anyone doing that again will not leave here for 30 days,'' the judge said. ''If you think I'm kidding, I invite you to try it.''

As the verdicts were read, Mr. Cherkasky, an assistant district attorney who had prepared the case for more than a year, looked down. Three other prosecutors who had worked with him kept their eyes lowered, their lips pursed.

After the courtroom was cleared, Mr. Gotti, receiving the same V.I.P. treatment he had been accorded by court guards during the three-week trial, was escorted out of the courthouse in lower Manhattan through a private elevator used by judges. Emerging onto White Street, he raised his left fist in a triumphant gesture as he was cheered by about 100 people standing behind police barricades on Centre and Lafayette Streets.

With his brother Peter and three other men, Mr. Gotti then drove off in a 1989 Cadillac as more cheers erupted and the barricades were lifted for his car.

As Mr. Gotti's car sped away, a detective who had observed much of the trial, said with sarcasm, ''Another victory for justice.''
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