Friday, September 21, 2007

Family Secrets Judge Trusts Jury

After a week off, jurors went back to work at Chicago's biggest mob trial in years Thursday, and the judge refused to poll them on whether news stories may have biased them.

U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel said it would be a mistake to treat jurors "as if they were some delicate object that must be encased in glass" and that he had reviewed recent news stories and saw no problems. "The system is that we trust the jurors unless we have some definitive evidence that that trust is not justified," Zagel said.

The five defendants already have been convicted by the jury of taking part in a racketeering conspiracy that involved illegal gambling, extortion, loan sharking and 18 murders that went unsolved for decades.

Among the victims was Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, long the mob's man in Las Vegas and the inspiration for Joe Pesci's character in the movie "Casino." He and brother Michael Spilotro were beaten to death and buried in an Indiana cornfield in June 1986.

Other victims were strangled, beaten and shot to keep them from leaking secrets to the FBI, according to witnesses at the 10-week Operation Family Secrets trial.

The jury now is deciding what, if any, individual responsibility four of the defendants have in specific murders that are listed in the indictment. Only one of the defendants, retired Chicago policeman Anthony Doyle, 62, is not accused of taking part in any of the murders.

The other defendants are James Marcello, 65, Frank Calabrese Sr., 70, Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, 78, and Paul Schiro, 70. Each faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if he is found responsible for any of the murders.

Marcello has been described by prosecutors as a major figure in the mob. Calabrese was previously convicted of loan sharking, Lombardo of conspiring to bribe a senator and Schiro of being part of a jewel theft ring headed by Chicago police department's former chief of detectives.

All the defendants except Doyle have been in custody for more than a year. Doyle was taken into custody after he was found guilty on the racketeering conspiracy charge and now is being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a block from the courthouse.

Zagel said Thursday that he would consider a defense request to free Doyle on bond pending sentencing, but not until after the jury reaches its decision on whether Calabrese was responsible for murder.

Prosecutors say the husky, broad-shouldered Doyle was a collector for Calabrese's loan sharking business while also working as a police officer. The government also has videotapes of Doyle visiting Calabrese in prison and discussing what prosecutors describe as a mob murder investigation.

Zagel said Wednesday he thought the deliberations might go on for a long time, but on Thursday indicated he was as much in the dark as anyone. He said the jurors have sent no signal to him on how they are progressing. "When the jury hasn't said anything that could mean in the next 10 minutes or the next 10 days," Zagel said.

Thanks to Mike Robinson

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