NEW YORK – Borrowing a legal strategy that worked for John "Junior" Gotti, an accused killer for the mob is defending himself against murder charges in federal court by claiming he quit the Gambino organized crime family nearly a decade ago.
One-time Gotti associate John Burke realized "his so-called friends were not that at all. ... that there is nothing glamorous about the mob," defense attorney Richard Jasper said Tuesday in opening statements at Burke's trial in Brooklyn.
The defense wants to convince a jury that the 51-year-old Burke officially "withdrew" from his life of crime in 2003, around the time he was convicted in a separate state case. Prosecutors are seeking to prove that he was part of a racketeering conspiracy — including three murders — that began in 1980 and lasted until at least until 2008.
Prosecutors alleged that Burke used a shotgun to kill a rival in 1982, months after the man shot and wounded him. They also have accused him of participating in two gangland hits in the 1990s, including a drug dealer named Bruce Gotterup.
The first slaying "earned the defendant a valuable reputation as a killer" for the Gambinos, Assistant U.S. Attorney Whitman Knapp told jurors.
Turncoat mobsters, the prosecutor added, would testify that Burke "was a drug dealer, a robber and a killer."
In his opening, Burke's lawyer said his client "did associate with these people because he grew up with them."
The defendant also robbed drug dealers as a young mob associate to support a cocaine habit, the lawyer said. But Burke never was officially inducted in the crime family and eventually grew disillusioned, Jasper said.
Four cases in the 2000s charging Gotti with ordering the killing of Gotterup and orchestrating other violence all ended with hung juries before prosecutors gave up trying to put him behind bars. The son of the late Gambino crime family mob boss John Gotti also used the so-called withdrawal defense, claiming he left the mob for good in 1996 — a violation of an oath swearing loyalty for life.