The feds pulled out all stops last week as they began efforts to send John (Junior) Gotti to the same death sentence behind bars that they served up for his dad, the late John Gotti, the swashbuckling Dapper Don whom the son emulated and followed to the top of the Gambino crime family.
This is likely to be the government's last shot at the former Junior Don, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Elie Honig stressed to the jury that the Mafia prince on trial was not some celebrity gangster or fictional Godfather's son created by Mario Puzo and played on the big screen by Al Pacino.
Junior Gotti, the prosecutor told a panel of anonymous New Yorkers, was a "vicious and violent street criminal" who "cheated, threatened, extorted, robbed, beat, kidnapped, stabbed, shot, and killed ... a long trail of victims, real people, real men and women who live here in New York City."
Honig said that Junior, while still a teenaged hoodlum using his father's mob clout to run a lucrative coke-selling ring, had stabbed 24-year-old Danny Silva during a 1983 barroom brawl in Queens, and then taunted his victim as he lay bleeding to death on the barroom floor.
The prosecutor also stated that Gotti was involved in four additional murders, home invasions, loansharking and gambling crimes as he earned his mob stripes and became a "savvy, money-hungry criminal and a leader of the Gambino crime family."
Before the first day of Gotti IV had ended, Honig's co-prosecutors in the case had joined the full-bore attack against the onetime acting mob boss. They called two witnesses who not only put blood on Junior's hands; they also painted him as a heartless and glee-filled killer.
Under questioning by prosecutor Steve Kwok, a former Queens resident who said he did not see the stabbing but called 911 after it, testified that Junior left the bar after Silva was knifed. But he said that Gotti returned moments later, and declared in an animated Porky Pig imitation: "Th-th-th-th-that's all folks!" as he twirled his hand in a semicircle over his head and fled in a flourish.
Jay Trezevant, the Tampa federal prosecutor who spearheaded the investigation that led to Gotti's indictment last year, then called the government's key witness in the Silva murder, a former junkie and drug dealer named Kevin Bonner. Bonner testified that he saw Gotti start the brawl with a drunken patron named "Elf," and end it by killing Silva.
"He got stabbed in the belly," said Bonner, in a reprise of testimony he gave at the 2006 racketeering trial of Gambino soldier Ronald (Ronnie One Arm) Trucchio in Tampa: "I looked over at John and I seen him, he stabbed this kid. As I was fighting, I see the kid get stabbed."
In his cross-examination, Gotti's attorney Charles Carnesi invoked a theme that he had told jurors applied to virtually all the government's witnesses: Bonner -- now serving 25 years for armed robberies in Florida and facing 20 more years for additional crimes -- had falsely fingered Gotti in the hope of earning an early release from prison.
Unlike Gotti, who admitted he was a gangster, had pleaded guilty, had "faced the consequences" for his crimes in 1999, and then quit the mob, Carnesi said that Bonner and key trial witness John Alite are trying to do what mobster buddies Michael (Mikey Scars) DiLeonardo and Joseph (Little Joe) D'Angelo have already done -- use Junior as a get-out-of-jail card.
All they have to do is proclaim, "Oh yeah, I did it, but he made me do it," said Carnesi. "I know it sounds ridiculous, but that's really what it's going to come down to," he insisted, as he ripped Honig's assertion that his turncoat witnesses are likely to testify truthfully because their cooperation agreements will be torn up if they lie.
"The truth is they wouldn't have the agreements unless they were saying he (Gotti) did it," said the attorney. He noted that even though Mikey Scars and Little Joe had been branded as dangerous killers and had been held without bail when they were arrested, both were released from prison after spending less than three years behind bars.
"The agreement doesn't say you get a reduction in sentence for telling the truth; you get a reduction in sentence for providing substantial assistance in the prosecution of another," he said, pointing at his client. "That's what gets you off the hook."
Like the government, the Gotti defense team, which includes attorney John Meringolo, has also expressed urgency in defending the much more serious murder and drug dealing charges than those lodged in three prior trials that revolved around the 1992 kidnapping/shooting of controversial ABC radio talk show host Curtis Sliwa.
In his opening statement, Carnesi said that a key role for the jurors would be to use their every day common sense to "search for the truth" among the lies of the government's witnesses.
In an effort to counter an assertion by Honig that the only way for the government to "expose the inner workings" of Gotti's mob activity was to make deals with killers like DiLeonardo and Alite -- an argument prosecutors routinely use at trial -- Carnesi said the defense would also call some witnesses with special insight about murders and drug dealing.
They would also include imprisoned criminals, but these witnesses, the lawyer said, were a cut above the government's turncoats. They had "faced the consequences" of their actions and possessed "the character to not accept invitations to make up stories about" his beleaguered client to buy their way out of prison. His witnesses, he insisted, had no motive to lie.
"There is not a single thing that I can do for them, not one thing," said Carnesi. "I can't give them money. I can't relocate them to new houses. I certainly can't get (them) out of jail. There is nothing that I can do for them. There is no reason in the world they have to come and curry favor with me to testify for us other than simply to want to tell the truth."