07/03/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Junior Gotti Defense Witness Stabbed to Death in Prison

A tough, imprisoned-for-life Queens gangster who was a defense witness for John (Junior) Gotti last fall was savagely killed by a fellow inmate at a federal prison in Pennsylvania last week.

Joseph O'Kane, who testified through a clenched jaw that had been wired shut following a prison yard scuffle, was stabbed to death a week ago Sunday in his cell block at USP Canaan, a troubled, high security penitentiary at Waymart, Pennsylvania, authorities tell Gang Land.

O'Kane, 43, was found mortally wounded in his cell block floor by a correction officer. He was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital at 12:10 AM, Monday morning, authorities said. He is the seventh Bureau of Prisons inmate to be murdered since October, said BOP spokeswoman Felicia Ponce.

It's also the seventh fight between inmates at the penitentiary last month, and the third major incident at the facility this year, according to knowledgeable prison sources. The suspected killer was placed in a Segregated Housing Unit (SHU), and the 1,392 inmates at the prison about 20 miles east of Scranton were confined to their cells for two days following the killing.

O'Kane's attorney and family members say prison officials have told family members that the cause of the longtime inmate's death is still under investigation by the FBI.

"He was well-respected in the facility," said his attorney Joseph Corozzo, adding that he and members of his client's family were shocked by the sad turn of events because O'Kane had no reported problems with inmates or with prison officials.

O'Kane was buried Friday at Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens, following a one-day wake at an Ozone Park funeral home.

Prison sources say O'Kane was stabbed in the face and body as many as 10 times and, remarkably, suffered no defensive wounds. "Even someone who is attacked while sleeping will usually put up some kind of a struggle," said one forensic expert.

Kim Straesser, an executive assistant warden at USP Canaan, confirmed only that O'Kane "sustained injuries during an altercation with another inmate." But she declined to identify the alleged assailant, his status, or whether the murder weapon was recovered.

The authoritative website of the union that represents 300,000 correction officers and other employees at the BOP's 113 institutions around the country reported that O'Kane "was stabbed several times" and was found "lying on his cell floor in a pool of blood" shortly after the 9:46 PM assault.

Kay Carden, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals, (AFL-CIO), says all the incident reports on its website come directly from the individual institutions and "are provided to alert our members and the public about what goes on in our work place."

Following his appearance as a Gotti IV defense witness, Gang Land asked O'Kane whether he had any regrets -- since after the verdict jurors said they had discredited the words of prosecution witness John Alite on their own, without any help. We also asked whether he'd had any problems with fellow inmates over his decision to voluntarily take the stand for Gotti, whose defense strategy was controversial in mob circles.

In a letter to Gang Land, O'Kane stressed that he "came on board for the defense to put an end to Alite's fabrication blaming Gotti for his own criminal endeavors." He said that comments by several jurors at the trial established that "my testimony was credible."

O'Kane made no bones that he was guilty of federal racketeering and murder charges for which he was serving life. But he said he was bitter that the feds learned from their witnesses at his 2001 trial that he had been wrongly convicted for a 1995 shooting and never sought justice for him in that case.

"No one came forth and said, 'Hey, we're sorry you sat in a state prison for five years for a crime you didn't commit.'"

Spokespeople for the BOP, the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, and FBI agents in Scranton say they are currently seeking justice for O'Kane.