Thursday, October 16, 2008

"Donnie Brasco" Says Fughetaboutit to Testifying in Court

The FBI undercover agent who infiltrated the Mafia as "Donnie Brasco" refused Wednesday to testify in a fellow former agent's murder trial because he could be photographed and filmed on the witness stand.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stanford Blake refused a request by Joseph Pistone to prohibit news media from taking pictures or videotaping his testimony.

The ex-agent on trial, John Connolly, said he didn't want Blake to enforce a subpoena that could require Pistone to take the stand because of fears for his safety. "He's a friend of mine. His wife is a friend of mine. I know his children. If something happened to him, I can't live with myself," Connolly told the judge.

Pistone posed as a jewel thief in 1976 to infiltrate New York's Bonanno family, eventually spending six years with the mob and ultimately putting more than 100 gangsters in jail. His book about the experience was made into a 1997 film starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino.

Connolly's attorneys say a Mafia contract for Pistone's killing remains in effect even though he has frequently given lectures and appeared on television. Media organizations covering Connolly's trial said they would not object if Pistone testified in sunglasses and a hat -- a disguise he has previously worn in public -- but Pistone wouldn't go along.

"There's got to be some exceptional reason" to ban cameras, Blake said. "I just don't see it in this case."

Connolly, 68, faces life in prison if convicted of conspiracy and murder in the 1982 killing of gambling executive John Callahan. Prosecutors say Connolly provided information to Boston mobsters who were his FBI informants that led to Callahan's slaying by a hit man.

Pistone's testimony was intended to show the difficulty of investigating organized crime and handling informants who are often violent criminals themselves.

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