Monday, September 03, 2007

Do you believe "The Clown" or an admitted hit man?

Jurors will have to decide when they begin deliberations Tuesday in Chicago's biggest mob trial in years. They got the case Thursday night after prosecutors made a last pitch to sway them to believe the testimony of their star witness, admitted hit man Nicholas Calabrese.

Defense lawyers have pegged Calabrese as "a walking piece of deception" whose testimony shouldn't be believed, even suggesting that if Calabrese says it's raining, someone ought to go outside to check. But prosecutors say it's the five men on trial who can't be believed, including reputed mobster Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, whose lawyers have claimed he turned his back on the mob long ago and therefore isn't part of the illegal activity prosecutors allege.

"Lombardo's word is no good," prosecutor Mitchell Mars told jurors. Mars tossed off Lombardo's so-called withdrawal defense saying, "he withdrew from nothing."

Lombardo, 78, and the others are accused in a racketeering conspiracy that allegedly includes 18 long-unsolved murders, illegal gambling, loan sharking and extortion tied to the Outfit, as Chicago's organized crime family is known.

The other defendants are reputed mob boss James Marcello, 65; convicted jewel thief Paul Schiro, 70; retired Chicago policeman Anthony Doyle, 62; and convicted loan shark Frank Calabrese Sr., 70, who is Nicholas Calabrese's brother.

The trial started in June and prosecutors wrapped up the final two hours of the rebuttal portion of their closing arguments on Thursday.

Prosecutors have used Nicholas Calabrese's testimony to link all but Doyle to the scene of at least one murder. Save up to 60% in the Geek Outlet Today!

Calabrese agreed to blab mob secrets to avoid the death penalty after his DNA was matched to blood on a glove at a 1986 murder scene, defense attorneys say. During the trial, he has admitted to taking part in about a dozen of the killings laid out in the indictment.

Marcello's attorney Marc Martin has accused Calabrese of inventing a tale about the most high-profile homicide in the case "because he felt he had to solve the crime to get his deal to save his life."

That's the killing of Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, who was beaten to death along with his brother, Michael, in 1986 and buried in an Indiana cornfield. Tony Spilotro, known as the mob's man in Las Vegas, was the inspiration for the Joe Pesci character in the 1995 movie "Casino." In the film, Pesci's character was beaten with bats and buried alive.

Calabrese testified that Michael Spilotro was strangled and died quickly, leaving behind only a spot of blood.

Mars told jurors Calabrese doesn't have to account for any lack of blood at the scene, but he explained that the fatal injuries were internal and didn't break the skin.

Mars also told jurors Calabrese didn't immediately give up Marcello when he began cooperating with federal officials because Marcello was paying him $4,000 a month to keep his mouth shut. "That's what he was paid to do," Mars said.

Thanks to Deanna Bellandi

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