04/10/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Gotti Feared a Guilty Verdict

Gotti IV was a total disaster for the feds. But they sure had John (Junior) Gotti fooled. The mob prince was utterly convinced that he was going to be found guilty of three murders and racketeering and sent away to die the same lonely, tragic death that his father suffered in federal prison, Gang Land has learned.

The erstwhile Junior Don was so terrified by that likelihood that on the day jurors began deciding his fate, he wrote an angry letter to trial judge P. Kevin Castel. In it, he ripped the judge as well as the defense lawyer who orchestrated his fourth successive mistrial in five years.

"He thought he was dead meat. He felt that everything had gone against him and he would be convicted. That's what spurred him to write the letter," said one knowledgeable source, adding that the written missive was also "clever and calculated."

In the three-page letter that was unsealed last week, Gotti repeated earlier complaints about numerous seemingly pro-prosecution rulings by Castel. But he also disclosed that a feud with lead attorney Charles Carnesi was behind his initial decision to boycott the lawyer's closing arguments to the jury. Castel, who unsealed the document in response to a motion by Gang Land, had sealed the letter he received on November 12, the second day of deliberations, without disclosing its existence to the opposing lawyers in the case.

"My attorney refused to allow me to take the stand in my own defense. That has haunted me and I want to make it part of the record," wrote Gotti, an astute longtime participant of the legal system who surely would have used that declaration to appeal a conviction if his worst fears came true and he had been found guilty.

Dying behind bars was certainly something that was on Junior's mind. "Most people don't know this," Gotti told Channel 2's Pablo Guzman in an interview on the day after his mistrial, "but my father died choking on his own vomit and blood, handcuffed to a bed in solitary confinement."
Carnesi confirmed that he kept his client off the stand and that Gotti "feared the worst." But in response to a Gang Land query, the lawyer said his client did not have a "guilty conscience. It was the exact opposite. He felt the entire government was guilty of persecuting him - FBI agents and federal prosecutors all along the Eastern Seaboard, from New York to Florida, were ganging up on him."

Asked about a brief, animated, visibly angry confrontation he had with Gotti when the defense rested, Carnesi said: "It was my decision. I rested. He jumped up and started to argue with me, in front of the jury. And as forcefully and as angrily as I could, I said, 'Sit down in that chair. We're resting.'"

The attorney declined to speculate on what he would have done if Gotti had stood up and demanded to testify, or get into a discussion about all his reasons. "There are too many possible pitfalls," he said. "And I didn't think it was necessary."

A few days before the defense rested, during a back and forth with Castel about the possibility of Gotti taking the stand himself, Carnesi said his client had no interest in limiting the scope of the government's cross-examination as long as it pertained only to allegations of crimes against Gotti.

"We don't think it's proper cross-examination for them to make him into a cooperator by going down a list of individuals and asking him to provide information about those individuals if the information does not involve his own criminal activity with those individuals," said Carnesi.

That issue never arose. But if Junior had been convicted, his letter to Castel could have laid the groundwork for a legal charge by Gotti that his lawyer refused to let him take the stand in order to protect other Gambino family members he has represented over the years.

In the end, despite Gotti's worries about his plight, his lawyer's strategy, and his efforts to protest it, Gotti IV worked out well for Junior.

His decision to push Carnesi to ask John Alite whether he had strangled a young woman during a hotel tryst, also worked out well for him, even though Alite named Gotti's uncle Vincent as the culprit, and the query led to an outburst by Gotti that caused him some grief with Judge Castel.

News accounts elsewhere had reported that Junior was alleged to have been involved in the woman's death. But that charge was put to rest after Gotti got his attorney to ask Alite about it. Alite, who was prone to blame Junior for virtually every other crime, took his former pal off the hook for the murder.