Feature Articles

May 2006

Last Days of the Gotti Gang

Part Eleven: First Amendment Under Siege

By J. R. de Szigethy

     Federal Prosecutors in the on-going case of John "Junior" Gotti have failed in their attempt to deprive Gotti�s mother Victoria of her Constitutional right to Freedom of Speech. In a pre-trial hearing, Federal Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled against the Prosecutors, who sought a gag order on the outspoken widow of former Gambino Family Godfather John Gotti.

     Federal Prosecutors have also failed in their attempts to deprive Junior�s brother Peter Gotti and pal Steve Dobies of their Constitutional right to Freedom of Speech. Both men have been subpoenaed by the Feds in Manhattan to testify before a Grand Jury in what Gotti�s attorney argues is an attempt to silence them from testifying on Gotti�s behalf. Judge Scheindlin ruled that both men cannot be forced to testify before the Grand Jury until the conclusion of Gotti�s trial, still set for July 5.

     Junior Gotti is set to stand trial a third time for allegedly ordering the attempt to deprive talk show host Curtis Sliwa of his Constitutional right to Freedom of Speech. Sliwa, the Feds allege, had angered Junior Gotti back in 1992 by his virulent attacks against his father on his popular radio talk show, prompting the Godfather�s son to order his lackeys to kidnap Sliwa and beat him to the point requiring hospitalization. However, the plan went awry when one of Junior�s alleged accomplices in the plot shot Sliwa inside a stolen cab, nearly killing the flamboyant Guardian Angels Founder in the process. Junior Gotti denies having any part in the assault on Sliwa and claims he made the decision to leave the Gambino Family while imprisoned in the late 1990s.

     Jurors in the first trial last year were deadlocked 11-1 for conviction of Gotti in the plot against Sliwa. However, a second jury this year was deadlocked 8-4 for acquittal in a trial that featured Sliwa�s radio talk show partner, attorney Ron Kuby, as a Defense Witness. Kuby backed up Junior�s claim that he had decided to forever end his association with New York-based criminals.

     Freedom of Speech is regarded as the most critical right of citizens in order for a Democracy to survive and flourish. Recognizing this, America�s Founding Fathers made it the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

     Thus, the attempt by Prosecutors to deny Mrs. Gotti her Constitutional right to Freedom of Speech is an action that would be taken very seriously by Judges, Constitutional attorneys, critics of government corruption, and civil rights activists. Still, both Prosecutors and Defense attorneys on occasion will seek gag orders in high-profile cases, given that public statements in the Media can have the effect of �prejudicing the jury pool� for or against the government�s case.

     Here is what this is about: during jury selection, Prosecutors will attempt to ascertain if a prospective juror has any pre-conceived notions as to the guilt or innocence of a Defendant. Also, very subtly, Prosecutors will attempt to determine if a prospective juror harbors, for whatever reason, �anti-government sentiment� that could preclude such a juror from making an objective decision based solely on the evidence as presented at trial. In recent years, several high-profile trials throughout America, in which the Prosecution�s evidence was overwhelming, nevertheless resulted in acquittals due to what is termed "jury nullification," in which jurors acquitted seemingly guilty Defendants based on emotional baggage the jurors brought with them into the Courtroom.

     In some locales across America, a high-profile person, usually a politician or star athlete, will possess what is considered �folk hero� status, in which the person can literally get away with crimes up to and including murder. One case that may illustrate this is that of former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards. On 2 separate occasions, Prosecutors took Edwards to trial on corruption charges, crimes which he openly bragged about committing in public. (Edwards was finally convicted in a third trial.) In other American jurisdictions where communities are divided along racial lines, such tensions have been known to be a factor in �jury nullification.� This dynamic can work in either direction; a fictional account of such is to be found in the motion picture classic TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, which features a trial in which an all-white jury ignores compelling evidence that an African-American man has been falsely accused of rape. While that movie was made over 40 years ago and depicts an American Justice system of over 70 years ago, race divisions remain to this day a factor in some jurisdictions that can affect the outcome of a jury�s verdict.

     Today, there are many in America�s Judicial community who believe that a trial is either won or lost during jury selection, and a cottage industry has emerged of �experts� who have developed certain criteria for identifying the prospective juror that is predisposed to render either the Prosecutors� or the Defense team�s desired outcome. By rote, during trial, Judges throughout America constantly admonish jurors not to discuss the case with anyone, nor pay attention to Media accounts of the proceedings. Still, jurors, being human, are often subject to influence by what they read, see, and hear about a case before and during a trial.

     Thus, Prosecutors in the Gotti case were likely displeased with Mrs. Gotti�s vehement public defense of her son and late husband after the Prosecution�s star witness, "Mikey Scars" DiLeonardo alleged in Judge Scheindlin�s Courtroom that Junior Gotti and his father both had sexual affairs while married and that Gotti Senior had fathered a �love child.� DiLeonardo�s allegations - which he did not make during the first trial last year - created a Media circus in which reporters nationwide relentlessly chased down the story.

     In seeking the gag order against Mrs. Gotti, her son�s Prosecutors may have feared that a public �backlash� of sympathy in favor of the Gotti family may have resulted from the extensive Media coverage given to Mrs. Gotti in defense of her family. If that was the case, this was a setback of the Prosecutor�s own making, given that it was their star witness who opened the bedroom door on Junior Gotti and his father. With the �sex scandal� allegations the talk of the town, many New Yorkers were quick to note that Junior Gotti was not on trial for having an alleged girlfriend, nor for his father having an alleged love child; the Gotti scion was charged with plotting to deny Curtis Sliwa�s Constitutional right to Freedom of Speech. In her remarks denying the government�s request to deny Mrs. Gotti�s Constitutional right to Freedom of Speech, Judge Scheindlin noted that Mrs. Gotti herself was not the one on trial.

     The Media itself may also have made it impossible for the Feds to find a jury of 12 peers who have no emotional baggage about this case. Many New Yorkers were outraged when a local newspaper snuck one of their photographers inside a Church and photographed Junior Gotti and his children attending a Catholic Mass. With the Feds� star witness poking inside the Gotti�s bedroom, and the Media poking inside Gotti�s Church, many New Yorkers asked out loud the following question: "Is nothing sacred?"

     On the flip side, Junior Gotti�s jury pool may have been negatively influenced by recent Media reports that alleged Gotti was considering accepting a plea bargain of a few years in prison in exchange for pleading guilty to the plot against Curtis Sliwa. Many citizens perceive that innocent people do not consider plea bargains, thus the Media reports may have prejudiced some potential jurors against Junior Gotti.

     There also may be at play among some members of Gotti�s jury pool a hidden Societal bias and sympathy in favor of those young men who carry the burden imposed upon them by the surname of their famous/infamous fathers, whether that person is Frank Sinatra, Jr., Lou Eppolito, Jr., or John Gotti, Jr., and whether the sins of those fathers should be visited upon their sons.

     Thus, as the son of Gambino Mafia Family Godfather John Gotti heads towards a third trial in a Federal Court of the United States of America, there are likely varied, opposing, and contradicting perceptions in the public from which a jury of peers will be selected to judge his Fate.

To be continued

Related Features

Last Days of the Gotti Gang
Part Ten: Mis-Trial and Error

Last Days of the Gotti Gang
Part Nine: The Three Victims

Last Days of the Gotti Gang
Part Eight: A Father�s Sins

Last Days of the Gotti Gang
Part Seven: �Plan B; to �Get Gotti�

Last Days of the Gotti Gang
Part Six: Homecoming for Junior Gotti

Last Days of the Gotti Gang
Part Five: Junior�s Trial Intersects �Mafia Cops� Trial

Last Days of the Gotti Gang
Part Four: Curtis Sliwa Gets His Day In Court

Last Days of the Gotti Gang
Part Three: "Dirty Dozen" Trial of Junior Gotti Begins

Last Days of the Gotti Gang:
Part Two: Peter Gotti Convicted, Junior Awaits Trial

Last Days of the Gotti Gang
Part One: The Two Godfathers vs. the Two Ladies

Ends of Evil: The Final Days of Sammy "The Bull" Gravano


James Ridgway de Szigethy can be reached at:

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