A judge declared a mistrial Tuesday at the racketeering trial of John "Junior" Gotti after a jury failed to reach a verdict against the son of the notorious Gambino crime family mob boss — the case's fourth hung jury in five years.
The anonymous jurors deliberated 11 days before notifying the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked over racketeering conspiracy and murder charges. Prosecutors accused Gotti of ordering gangland hits to settle scores and of secretly pocketing drug money despite insisting he'd gone straight.
Shortly after 3 p.m. Tuesday, the jury sent U.S. District Judge Kevin P. Castel a note that read: "Judge Castel, we cannot reach a unanimous decision on any count. We are deadlocked. There is not one member of the jury who believes that we can reach a unanimous verdict on any count."
Castel notified the jury that he was declaring a mistrial, and applause erupted in the courtroom among Gotti supporters. Once the jury left the courtroom, Gotti hugged his attorney. Whether he would be granted bail was to be decided at a hearing later Tuesday.
Victoria Gotti, Gotti's sister, tearfully said outside court: "We're ravaged. We're beaten down, but we're not broken."
Asked about a possibility of another trial, she said: "Just let it go. We're no organized crime family. We're a family. That's all we are."
Three previous trials in the same Manhattan courthouse — alleging the 45-year-old Gotti orchestrated a kidnapping and attempted murder plot against Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa — ended in hung juries in 2005 and 2006.
Prosecutors in the latest case renewed the Sliwa accusation, but also raised the stakes by alleging that Gotti left behind a trail of bodies while following in the footsteps of the late John "Dapper Don" Gotti. Claims by the Don's eldest son that he quit the Mafia in 1999 were preposterous, they said.
"It makes no sense," Assistant U.S. Attorney James Trezevant said in closing arguments. "He never, never quit that life."
In his closing argument, Gotti's lawyer recounted how Gotti, while visiting his imprisoned-for-life father, confided that he didn't have the stomach for La Cosa Nostra.
"It's not working for me, and it's not working for my kids," attorney Charles Carnesi quoted his client as saying.
Carnesi also attacked the prosecution's turncoat witnesses. He argued they were willing to tell lies about Gotti to reduce their own prison sentences.
The government's star witness was John Alite, a Gambino enforcer who testified about the younger Gotti's rise through the family ranks — and about his violent temper. He claimed Gotti once shot a man for mocking the size of his handgun.
"Is this big enough?" Alite quoted Gotti as saying as he grabbed a nearby rifle and shot the man in the hip.
Alite told jurors that Gotti drafted him for a 1990 hit — the victim was an associate who had dared to ignore one of his father's orders — in the parking garage of the World Trade Center. He also said the defendant repeatedly urged him to earn his organized crime stripes by killing a childhood friend of Alite who was telling people that he was selling drugs for Gotti.
"John Gotti Jr. kept saying to me in '88: `You didn't kill this kid yet, you didn't shoot him, you didn't do this.' ... He wanted me to kill him," Alite said.
The trial was punctuated by hysterical outbursts. With the jury on a lunch break and Alite leaving the witness stand, Gotti lost it: A deputy U.S. marshal told a prosecutor that he saw him mouth the words: "I'll kill you" to Alite. When Alite responded, Gotti erupted, shouting: "You're a punk! You're a dog! You're a dog! You always were a dog your whole life, you punk dog."
Gotti's mother, also named Victoria, erupted another time with the jury absent, screaming out to her son, "They're railroading you! They're doing to you what they did to your father!"
Her husband, like their son, had a knack for evading convictions on a variety of mob indictments brought against him, earning him his other nickname, "Teflon Don." He finally was convicted in 1992 of murder and racketeering and died in prison.