In some editions of the Sept. 21 Style section, an article about the trial of John A. Gotti incorrectly stated that co-defendant Louis Mariani's mother screamed when Mariani was convicted. It was his aunt, Antoinette Laboccetta. In the same editions, the name of one of Gotti's lawyers, Marc Fernich, was misspelled.
At the Gotti Trial, a Mob Scene
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
NEW YORK, Sept. 20 -- In a scene that seemed scripted by a Hollywood hack, the federal trial of John A. "Junior" Gotti ended Tuesday with tears, applause, fainting and a mixed verdict that soon could spring the onetime Mafia boss from prison.
On its eighth day of deliberation, a weary panel of seven women and five men acquitted Gotti, 41, of securities fraud and hung on the three other counts, including loan-sharking and the alleged kidnapping of Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa. U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin declared a mistrial on those charges and said that she's inclined to approve a request by Gotti's lawyers that he be freed on $2 million bail. Odds are good that one of the country's most notorious gangsters -- or ex-gangsters, as his defense team argued -- will be restricted only to house arrest starting sometime next week.
The coda to this seven-week trial was weird, baffling and at moments very noisy. The aunt of Louis Mariani, one of Gotti's two co-defendants, screamed "Nooooooooo!" as she heard the forewoman declare her nephew guilty of securities fraud. Antoinette Laboccetta then slipped off her seat and onto the floor, her eyes rolling, a copy of a pamphlet called "The Promises of Our Lord" clutched to her chest.
Two marshals in the courtroom rushed to aid her. "Do you need an ambulance?" shouted one of Scheindlin's clerks, sitting directly in front of the judge, as Laboccetta was carried out of the room. All the while, the judge tried to go through the formality of polling the jury, which wasn't easy because jurors, too, were fixated on the drama in the audience. "Pay attention to me," she said, as cheerfully as possible. Adding to the upheaval, the clerk who'd asked about the ambulance started to cry.
Other members of the crowd -- the Gotti side, at any rate -- clapped wildly when the last "not guilty" was read. Angel Gotti, a sister of the accused, praised her favorite psychic, who she said had predicted this very outcome on this very day. "I told you, didn't I?" she said, nudging her mother as the two of them wiped tears from their eyes. "God listens to a mother's prayers," said Gotti's mother, Victoria, who leaped to her feet and left the courtroom as the verdict was read.
Gotti shook his head, hugged his lawyer and eventually turned to give a thumbs-up to assorted friends and family. But for a while he looked baffled by the proceedings. And the proceedings, in truth, were pretty baffling.
There was some confusion about the law -- for a good half-hour, the judge and lawyers puzzled over the verdict sheet, parsed the complicated rules of racketeering statutes and debated whether the jury had actually acquitted Gotti of all counts or just had failed to reach a unanimous decision. (It had deadlocked, it was decided, leaving Gotti open to a retrial.)
Gotti is hardly out of legal jeopardy -- prosecutors will almost certainly retry him -- but he and his attorneys clearly won over a juror or two by arguing that he'd quit the mob in 1999, when he pleaded guilty to a handful of racketeering charges. Gotti, son of the "Dapper Don," the late John J. Gotti, had contended that his charismatic and murder-prone dad led him astray, and that after six years in prison, a variety of slights by former associates in the Gambino crime family, and maybe a little moral clarity, he had had enough of crime.
The verdict left Gotti's attorneys, Jeffrey Lichtman and Marc Fernich, beaming.
"The fact is they built a case on the backs of psychotics," Lichtman said, referring to the parade of ex-mobsters who provided the juiciest part of the prosecution's presentation. "Altogether they committed about 30 murders, these guys, and some of them are walking among us. The jury rejected that approach."
Lichtman also said it was time to leave the Gottis alone. "Enough already," he said. "Let's find Osama bin Laden."
The sidewalk outside the Daniel Patrick Moynihan courthouse in Lower Manhattan was jammed with television cameras as Lichtman and other players in the case left the building. Sliwa, who the government alleged had been shot on Gotti's orders in a 1992 kidnapping attempt, fumed in the middle of the scrum.
"There's a Round 2," he said. "This doesn't mean Gotti is innocent. I've waited 13 years for this. I can wait a little longer."
Mariani, who is free pending sentencing, shrugged off the guilty verdict against him and told the assembled media that he was ready to do his time.
"It'll be a lot like a fat farm," he said of prison, grinning widely, his hands on his expansive belly.
"I could stand to lose 60 pounds."
His aunt stood nearby, looking a little dazed but under the circumstances rather steady.