Monday, August 27, 2007

Family Secrets Closing Arguments This Week

With the presentation of evidence expected to wrap up Monday, the Family Secrets trial has been among the most riveting and eye-opening in Chicago history, putting the violent realities of Outfit life and death on display for nine weeks.

Among the trial's highlights, three reputed "made" members of the Chicago Outfit each testified -- one, the star government witness, and two key defendants.

Nicholas Calabrese, confronted with DNA evidence tying him to a 1986 murder, turned on the mob, betraying his brother and providing an insider's view on many of the 18 gangland slayings at the heart of the prosecution's case.

In a rare move for accused mobsters, Calabrese's brother, Frank Calabrese Sr., who is implicated in 13 of the murders, and Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, perhaps Chicago's best-known reputed Outfit figure of the past three decades, took the witness stand in their own defense.

In closing arguments this week, lawyers will guide jurors through the testimony of dozens of witnesses and hours of secretly made recordings.

Calabrese, Lombardo and three co-defendants -- James Marcello, Paul "the Indian" Schiro and former Chicago police officer Anthony "Twan" Doyle -- are charged in a conspiracy that allegedly involved murder, racketeering, extortion and threats.

The first count of the indictment charged that the Chicago mob killed its "members, associates and others to advance the interests of the Chicago Outfit's illegal activities." If any of the defendants are convicted of the first count, U.S. District Judge James Zagel decided last week, jurors will be asked to deliberate separately on whether any defendants committed specific murders. That finding could trigger a stiffer sentence -- up to life in prison.

The most damning evidence against Frank Calabrese Sr. came from his brother, and his son, Frank Calabrese Jr. Nicholas Calabrese spent a week on the stand, calmly testifying in vivid detail about how his brother slowly lured him into Outfit life. By the time he committed his first murder with his brother in 1970, he testified he believed it was a test of his manhood. "We gotta put somebody in a hole," he quoted his brother as announcing. Nick Calabrese testified that his brother's preferred method of murder was to strangle his victims with a rope and then cut their throats.

In hours of conversations secretly taped by the FBI and played for jurors while he was imprisoned, Frank Calabrese Sr. could be heard discussing some of the murders with his son. He also talked about participating in a mob-making ceremony, complaining that holy pictures had been burned in his hand. "That bothers me," Frank Calabrese Sr. said on the tape.

In his closing argument, Calabrese's lawyer, Joseph Lopez, is expected to contend that Calabrese's brother and son testified for the government as part of a plot to steal some $2 million from him.

In testifying, Frank Calabrese Sr. flatly denied killing any of the victims with an emphatic "No way," sometimes as he thumped his fingers down on the witness stand.

He said he ran a loan business with Outfit connections, but he never used threats to collect debts. Telling jurors he was jealous of his brother's relationship with his sons, Frank Calabrese Sr. said he boasted to impress his son when he appeared to be discussing mob activity.

Prosecutors contend Marcello is another longtime Outfit figure, trumpeting him as its then-current leader when he was arrested in 2005.

Nicholas Calabrese implicated Marcello in perhaps the case's most notorious slayings, those of brothers Anthony and Michael Spilotro. He allegedly lured them to their deaths, driving them to the Bensenville residence where they were beaten to death, Calabrese testified.

Prosecutors have tried to strengthen their case with tapes of Marcello talking in prison with his brother, Michael, who previously pleaded guilty in the Family Secrets case. The Marcellos can be heard talking in code and speculating about whether the government was building a case against them.

Prosecutors also presented the testimony of Spilotro family members, including Michael Spilotro's daughter, who said it was James Marcello who called her family's home the day her dad vanished.

Marcello's defense team likely will argue to the jury that the government's case is too speculative, that Nicholas Calabrese, an admitted serial killer, can't be trusted and that no physical evidence connects Marcello to any of the slayings.

Prosecutors alleged that Lombardo, the reputed boss of the mob's Grand Avenue street crew, was behind the murder of Daniel Seifert, his onetime business partner, though the evidence is largely circumstantial. Seifert was due to testify against Lombardo in a fraud case when he was ambushed by gunmen outside his Bensenville office and killed.

Lombardo's fingerprint was found on the title application of one of two getaway cars found about two miles from the scene of the murder.

Lombardo's lawyer, Rick Halprin, has argued that his client was a hustler but not a gangster, a legitimate businessman with mob connections.

Lombardo testified earlier this month, drawing dozens to the courtroom to watch the notorious reputed Outfit leader. He was asked by a prosecutor whether he is a capo in the Chicago Outfit. "That is positively no, sir," Lombardo said.

Prosecutors alleged that Schiro, a reputed Spilotro associate who was part of the Chicago mob's western operations, helped stalk federal witness Emil Vaci in Phoenix in 1986.

Nicholas Calabrese told how Schiro allegedly helped a mob hit squad locate and target Vaci before Calabrese shot him in the head. Schiro and his lawyer, Paul Wagner, have chosen to put on no witnesses. Wagner has argued that Nicholas Calabrese was the real killer and cannot be trusted.

The case against Doyle centers mostly on the bloody glove that linked Nicholas Calabrese through DNA to a 1986 murder. In 1999, when the Outfit had gotten wind of the federal mob investigation and began to fear that Calabrese would cooperate, Doyle allegedly passed information about the glove to Frank Calabrese Sr.

In testifying last week, Doyle said he visited Calabrese in prison out of loyalty to a lifelong friend and tried to shift blame to a former police officer who also had been charged in the case, but died before trial.

Closing arguments by the attorneys could begin as soon as late Monday. Jury deliberations likely will begin later in the week.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Charles Tyrwhitt

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