Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

John Gotti, the Last Mafia Icon

'Teflon Don'

The newspapers reported peripheral stories that were going on during the trial. They discussed how courtroom guards gave Gotti the VIP treatment, clearing onlookers so the Dapper Don and his attorneys could move about the courthouse. One newspaper wrote that Gotti was "never unattended." Associates held umbrellas for him when it rained, while another aide stood ready with paper towels as he washed his hands in the men's room. Actors Tony LaBianco and Ray Sharkey attended parts of the trial. It was believed that one of them would portray the mob boss in an upcoming movie.

The jury panel, twelve jurors and four alternatives, had been sequestered for three weeks. The New York Times reported:

"Confined to an undisclosed hotel, the jurors eat and travel together, always under the watchful eyes of court guards. They are barred from meeting relatives and friends, and telephone conversations are monitored.

"Stories about the trial and organized crime are clipped from newspapers and magazines read by the nine men and seven women. Watching television is permitted but news programs are blacked out. Jurors who take a walk or attend religious services are escorted by guards."

Deliberations did not go smoothly. At one point an unidentified juror sent a note to Judge McLaughlin claiming there was much dissension among the jurors. The note stated:

I FEEL WE HAVE A JUROR WHO HAS BROUGHT BIAS INTO THIS ROOM. PLEASE ADVISE. THIS JUROR HAS INDICATED THAT HE HAD SOME OPINION ON GUILT OR INNOCENCE BEFORE THE TRIAL STARTED.

A JUROR

McLaughlin called the jury in and spoke to them. Stating that deliberations are often difficult, he joked, "You can't get 12 New Yorkers to agree on anything." One former prosecutor pointed out that, "When a jury is sequestered there is always a risk of personality clashes and increased tensions. Such tensions can lead to deadlocks and deadlocks can lead to mistrials."

After the third day of deliberations ended, police searched a black Lincoln Continental parked outside the courthouse. They had received a call stating that guns were inside the car. They asked the driver, John "Junior" Gotti, to step out. All they found was an aluminum baseball bat.

On Friday, February 9, 1990, the jury returned with a verdict. After only one vote to reach a decision, they found Gotti and Guerrieri not guilty on four assault charges and two conspiracy counts. Jurors who agreed to be interviewed stated they found little credibility in the prosecution's tapes and their star witness James McElroy.

The New York Times analyzed the verdict:

"However fearless the jurors themselves sounded afterward, some defense lawyers hypothesize that subliminal fear of the "Dapper Don," a man who appears to thumb his nose at the authorities with impunity, may have affected their deliberations. And that fear, they say, can only be exaggerated by three weeks sequestration."

As the verdicts were being read, the courtroom spectators began to applaud and one Gotti supporter shouted, "Yeah, Johnny." Judge McLaughlin stopped the foreman and warned, "Folks, anyone doing that again will not leave here for 30 days. If you think I'm kidding, I invite you to try."

When the courtroom was cleared, the jubilant Gotti was escorted out of the courthouse through a private elevator reserved for judges. Once on the street, Gotti raised his fist in triumph for the crowds of supporters standing behind police barricades. On Mulberry Street, the victory was greeted with cheers and celebratory fireworks. In Ozone Park, red and yellow balloons awaited Gotti's return.

On July 5, 1990, John F. O'Connor pled guilty to reduced charges in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. The now former carpenter's union official, who had been charged in 1987 in a 127-count indictment, received a prison sentence of one to three years. During the months of plea bargaining that preceded his guilty plea, the charge that he directed the damaging of the Bankers and Brokers restaurant in Battery Park City was dropped. O'Connor's lawyer, James M. LaRossa, hoped that through a work-release program his client would be out in less than one year.

 

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