NEW YORK – A judge on Friday threw out a racketeering murder conviction against two detectives accused of moonlighting as hitmen for the mob, saying the statute of limitations had expired on the slayings.
U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein also granted a new trial to the defendants, Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, on money laundering and drug charges.
Defense attorneys had argued that the five-year statute of limitations had expired on the most serious allegations against the pair — that they committed or facilitated eight killings between 1986 and 1990 while on the payroll of both the New York Police Department and Luchese crime family underboss Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso.
Prosecutors had countered that the murders were part of an ongoing conspiracy that lasted through a 2005 drug deal with an FBI informant.
In a 77-page ruling, Weinstein agreed with a jury that Eppolito and Caracappa were guilty of murder, kidnapping and other crimes, but he said the law compelled him to set aside the verdict.
"The evidence at trial overwhelmingly established the defendants' participation in a large number of heinous and violent crimes," the judge wrote. "Nevertheless an extended trial, evidentiary hearings, briefings and argument establishes that the five-year statute of limitations mandates granting the defendants a judgment of acquittal on the key charge against them — racketeering conspiracy."
After the detectives retired and moved to Las Vegas in the mid-1990s "the conspiracy that began in New York in the 1980s had come to a definite close," the judge wrote. "The defendants were no longer in contact with their old associates in the Luchese crime family."
There is no statute of limitations on murder in the state of New York, but the men were prosecuted at the federal level because of the higher likelihood of a conviction for racketeering.
Eppolito, 57, whose father was a member of the Gambino crime family, and Caracappa, 64, were convicted in April in what was considered one of the worst cases of police corruption in New York history.
"It's exactly what we argued during the trial," said Edward Hayes, Caracappa's trial lawyer. "I am very happy for my client, and I do feel it is a vindication of our trial strategy."