Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mobster's Cousin Jailed 22 Years for Whack He Did Not Commit?

Friends of ours: Vincent Carini, Eddie Carini, Salvatore "Fat Sal" Mangiavillano, Frank Smith
Friends of mine: Carmine Carini

Carmine Carini’s cousins were assassins. Prosecutors and Mafia defectors have credited them with numerous killings. One time they were ordered to kill a federal prosecutor but instead they killed his father, an administrative judge who handled parking tickets. They were killed for their blunder.

Their names were Vincent and Eddie Carini, and they were bad guys to hang around with if you wanted to stay out of trouble. Carmine did hang around with them, and did not stay out of trouble. At age 25, he was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison for the murder of a record store owner, a crime some say he did not commit.

That was the year his son was born, 1985. Since then he has never implicated his cousins in the killing, even as he filed eight applications to contest his conviction on procedural grounds. None of these found success — not the effort to fault a defense lawyer for failing to object when a juror was dismissed, not the effort to challenge the verdict sheet, nothing. But as of yesterday morning Mr. Carini is no longer a convicted murderer, on account of a celebrity lawyer and radio show host, two prolific Mafia cooperating witnesses and a story of tortured conscience that leads right back to Vincent and Eddie Carini.

Before a dozen of Carmine Carini’s relatives and supporters in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn, Justice Guy J. Mangano Jr. vacated the conviction and ordered a new trial on charges of second-degree murder. Mr. Carini exhaled deeply, and there was a round of applause.

“In between crossing himself,” said his lawyer, Ronald L. Kuby, a host of a radio show, “he said he’s ready to come home.”

But first Mr. Carini will have to decide how ready. An assistant district attorney, Anna-Sigga Nicolazzi, offered him the chance to plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter, a charge that carries a sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years and would allow him to leave prison almost immediately. “The people still certainly believe in his guilt,” Ms. Nicolazzi said, adding that a plea bargain would require him to acknowledge a role in the killing.

Mr. Carini has maintained he played no role. After the hearing, he returned to the holding pens to consider his lot, a proposition requiring him to cast his memory back to the early 1980s.

Back then, court documents show, Salvatore Mangiavillano, known as Fat Sal, was a car thief and a high school classmate of Eddie Carini. And Frank Smith was a teenage car thief with a specialty: four-door models by General Motors.

After breaking a car’s interior lights to obscure the occupants from view, Mr. Smith has testified, he could get $200 from Vincent and Eddie Carini, whom he described as “tough guys and killers.” Mr. Smith, by his own account, graduated to participate in murders with Vincent and Eddie Carini.

On Nov. 18, 1983, a record store owner named Verdi Kaja, who had business dealings with the Carinis, was summoned to a car, driven several blocks, shot three times in the head and dumped in the street.

With the testimony of witnesses who said they had watched Carmine Carini get into the car, he was convicted as the driver and the gunman. Prosecutors said he later visited the victim’s family to warn them against talking to the police.

During Mr. Carini’s time in prison, the Mafia’s fortunes experienced a well-documented waning. Federal prosecutors adopted Mr. Smith and Mr. Mangiavillano as reliable cooperating witnesses in a number of cases. And in June 2004, United States attorneys wrote to the Homicide Bureau of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, disclosing that both men had heard Vincent Carini, who had long since been killed, confess to the murder of the record shop owner.

The homicide bureau chief, Kenneth M. Taub, passed this information along to Carmine Carini, who began to seek a new trial. At a hearing in February, Justice Mangano entertained the new accounts from the cooperating witnesses.

This put state prosecutors in a fix: To discredit the witnesses could amount to undermining successful federal Mafia prosecutions.

At the hearing, both men recounted hearing Vincent Carini’s confession.

Mr. Mangiavillano described it this way: “I seen him standing outside his mom’s house. His mom’s house, I believe to be on 88th Street and 17th Avenue, across the street from the schoolyard. Anyway, I seen him standing there. I pulled over and I seen that he was sobbing, he was crying. I asked him what was the matter and he told me, ‘My cousin Carmine just got convicted for a murder that I did.’ ”

Prosecutors argued that Carmine Carini has had access to this information for years; defense lawyers countered that factors including the intricacies of Mafia codes of conduct would have prevented him from obtaining any sworn testimony.

At a hearing in April, prosecutors said the new evidence fit a more convincing theory of the crime: Carmine Carini drove the car, while Vincent Carini sat in the back seat and fired the gun. Under the legal doctrine of acting in concert, a jury could accept that version of events and still convict Carmine Carini of murder. But before that theory can be explored in a new trial, Mr. Carini has a decision to make. Justice Mangano set his bail at $500,000. As he was handcuffed and led away, Mr. Carini blew a quick kiss to his family.

Outside the courtroom, his relations gathered around the lawyer, Mr. Kuby, to ask how they could mortgage their houses for bail. “I was hoping that he was going to walk out right now,” said Mr. Carini’s 22-year-old son, the one born the year he went to prison, the one he named Vincent, just like his cousin.

Thanks to Michael Brick

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