Sunday, September 25, 2005

Gotti Jury 'Family' Circus

The jury that was so split it couldn't decide the case against John "Junior" Gotti last week was a flawed bunch that included panelists who didn't belong on any criminal case let alone one starring the son of a notorious godfather, experts say.

Juror No. 2, a man in his 30s on disability for depression, took a drug that "gets me drowsy" and occasionally appeared to doze during the trial. Juror No. 11, a 67-year-old retired actress who once played Woody Allen's wife on stage, said she was brutally mugged in Manhattan, fought off a friend's attacker with a tap shoe and worked in a mob-run Las Vegas casino where a man was shot in the barber's chair.
"I was frightened," she said. During the trial, when the sound system made a cracking noise that sounded like gunshots, she jumped in alarm. Juror No. 5, a man in his 50s who works for a costume-wig company, admitted in pretrial questioning that he'd fibbed on the jury questionnaire by naming Al Capone as the person he least admired, in an "inept attempt to get disqualified."

Gotti's lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, had opposed the selection of a nurse who left nine questions blank on her questionnaire, saying the omissions showed a "lack of effort, lack of interest" and "incompetence." But Manhattan federal Judge Shira Scheindlin refused to dismiss the woman after prompting her to name three famous people she most admired: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sidney Poitier and Whoopi Goldberg.

Lichtman called the outcome "surprising," saying it seemed impossible to get a jury not biased against or fearful of his client's notorious name. He recalled one potential juror, eventually eliminated, who began sobbing in the courtroom. "I'm afraid I'm going to get axed," the woman whimpered. (She meant whacked.)

Jury consultant Robert Hirschhorn, who aided the defense in the Danny Pelosi murder trial, was incredulous at some of the jurors selected for a case involving charges that the son of the late Gambino big John "Dapper Don" Gotti used violence or threats to extort and abducted Guardian Angel and radio host Curtis Sliwa, who was shot several times.

Last week, the jury acquitted Gotti, 41, of securities fraud and deadlocked 10-2 and 7-5 for conviction on the kidnapping charges. In an 11-1 split, a lone holdout blocked a Gotti guilty verdict on extortion and racketeering counts.

Hirschhorn called it "a miracle" that the jury didn't convict Gotti of anything and pointed out that some panelists had admitted biases. The retired actress, who suffers from osteoarthritis, told the judge before her selection that she assumed Junior had followed in his late father's footsteps.

"I thought it was part of the family tree. If your father is a doctor, you should be a doctor. Perhaps that is what he [Gotti] is doing. It's part of the business, isn't it?" she said. She also said that she suffered a concussion and that her teeth were knocked out by a mugger who escaped. "It was very bad," she told the judge, who got the woman to vow she could still be fair on the case. But Hirschhorn asked, "Do you want somebody on the jury who has been through such a terrifying experience?" He called the medicated juror "impaired" and said it seemed the costume-wig employee who hoped to return to work by Halloween lied because "he didn't want to serve. All he wanted to do was get out of there."

Scheindlin set a hearing tomorrow to decide whether to release Gotti on bail pending a possible retrial.

Thanks to Susan Edelman


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