Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Vinny Gorgeous Begs Jury for Mercy

After a blood-soaked career as a New York mafia boss, Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano found himself begging a jury Tuesday for something he rarely gave himself: mercy.

Jurors in Brooklyn federal court began hearing arguments on whether the convicted murderer and former boss of the Italian-American Bonanno crime family should be executed or spend the rest of his life in a top security prison.

A lawyer for Basciano, a 51-year-old famous for his sharp suits and swept-back, immaculate hair, made an emotional appeal, telling the jury to let his client die "in God's time and not man's."In several years' time, defense attorney Richard Jasper said in a dramatic whisper, jurors would be asked by their children how they acted "and you will be able to tell them: 'I chose life.'"Basciano was convicted last week for ordering the murder of a fellow wiseguy, Randolph Pizzolo. Unlike in usual cases where the judge sets the sentence, the jury in a capital case also has sentencing power.

Prosecutor Jack Dennehy described "the murderous rise to power" that took Basciano to the top of the Bonannos, one of New York's traditional five Cosa Nostra crime syndicates.

He said Basciano was involved in several mafia killings, both as trigger puller and the man who gave the orders -- "a man who wants to decide who lives and who dies."If Basciano were sent to prison, even without parole, he would continue to pull the strings, Dennehy argued. "He will not leave the Bonanno crime family behind in prison."Basciano's life and trial could be taken from the script of a brutal Hollywood mafia movie. A striking-looking man, he spent three decades thriving in the snake-pit of the Big Apple underworld.In court, he has fought equally hard to justify his infamous "Vinny Gorgeous" nickname. He complained several times at the outset about his poor access to clothes and he even borrowed the judge's tie so that he could look smart before jurors came in.

On Tuesday, the cool killer wore an olive green suit with a tie in forest colors and a white shirt. His silver-black hair was combed perfectly backward.With years of experience in the justice system, Basciano takes active part in his defense. He entered court carrying a box of documents and spent his time taking notes -- passing some along to his lawyers -- and shaking his head when Dennehy said he'd gone as far as plotting to murder women.

Dennehy said the fallen mob boss "poses a future danger to others" and had "earned the ultimate punishment, the punishment of death." But Jasper, his voice ranging from a near shout to intimate whispers, sought to tug jurors' consciences. For a death sentence, the jury must be unanimous. If not, Basciano will go to prison.

Jasper urged jurors against thinking that life in prison was a soft option. Basciano, he said, would be sent to the Supermax facility in a remote part of Colorado, a place "feared" by the hardest of the hard.There would be no second chance for Basciano, he said. "Vinny Basciano will come out of prison in a box."The dapper don act will be over too."No suits, no shirts, no ties, no 'Vinny Gorgeous,'" Jasper said. "The rest of his life in prison."

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