The Chicago Syndicate: Mafia Cop Trial Defense Was 'Excellent,' Judge Says

Magee 1866 Heritage Month

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Mafia Cop Trial Defense Was 'Excellent,' Judge Says

Friends of mine: Louis Eppolito, Stephen Caracappa

The Mafia Cops corruption case swerved yet again into the unforeseen — and the astonishing — as a federal judge angrily exonerated one defense lawyer of professional neglect even as he briefly threatened to arrest another for his absence from court.

The first decision by the judge, Jack B. Weinstein, effectively put to rest charges that the first lawyer, Bruce Cutler, had bungled the defense of his former client, Louis Eppolito, a retired New York detective. In April, only days after a jury found him guilty of at least eight murders for the mob, Mr. Eppolito accused Mr. Cutler of botching the job and subpoenaed him to appear in court in his own defense.

Mr. Cutler did just that, taking questions from Joseph Bondy, his old client's new lawyer, on everything from his courtroom style (the words "eviscerate" and "pulverize" came up) to his decision not to let his former client testify. If Mr. Eppolito had testified, the prosecution would have buried him in evidence, Mr. Cutler said. He added that he would have gone so far as to tackle Mr. Eppolito — no mean feat for a man with a 54-inch chest — rather than to let him take the stand.

Nonetheless, after two hours of intense interrogation, Judge Weinstein cut the hearing short, ruling that Mr. Cutler had not only put on a "professional" defense but that Mr. Eppolito's "immorality and lack of credibility" had led him "to ignore his testimony on any point." The immediate result of this was that Mr. Cutler — surprised but apparently much relieved — got to go home, more or less unscathed, on what could have been a brutal day in Federal District Court in Brooklyn.

Momentum for the hearing had been rising since the day that Mr. Eppolito told the press that Mr. Cutler had "abandoned" him and filed a motion for a new trial. Beyond a glance into Mr. Cutler's methods ("After the government's case is eviscerated," he explained, "I sum up and then I win"), the hearing was rather tame. Judge Weinstein was unimpressed enough by Mr. Bondy's arguments that he said he saw no need for the government to cross-examine Mr. Cutler — in essence saying that its point (that Mr. Cutler was, in fact, a fine lawyer) had already been made.

Mr. Eppolito, along with his co-defendant, Stephen Caracappa, were trying to prove that they deserved new trials based on the issue of inadequate representation, among others. While Judge Weinstein rejected Mr. Eppolito's motion for a new trial based on the representation grounds, he has not ruled on the former detective's other motions. It was also unclear how today's ruling would affect Mr. Caracappa's case against his defense lawyer, Eddie Hayes.

On Friday, Mr. Eppolito testified for the first time since his case originally went to court. He assaulted Mr. Cutler's reputation, saying that although he had paid the lawyer a $250,000 retainer, Mr. Cutler had never fully explained to him the charges in the case and had refused to work through lunch.

In fact, he said, Mr. Cutler not only refused four times to let him take the stand, he refused to speak with him at all. "Tell him he's annoying me," Mr. Eppolito quoted Mr. Cutler as having told a colleague one day. This was within earshot of the client, who said he had answered, "I'm not deaf."

Mr. Eppolito's testimony made it evident why Mr. Cutler had kept him off the witness stand during the trial. Mr. Eppolito revealed himself to be a man with a tangential relation to reality — who, in one breath, said he wanted to attack a man with a hatchet and in the next proclaimed, "I'm not a violent guy."

In a particularly odd moment, Mr. Eppolito swore — in open court and on penalty of perjury — that he would have no trouble lying, none at all, if he thought it would help his case.

It was perfectly in keeping with the hearing that the chief investigator for the case came around to his adversary's point of view.

"I hate to agree with Cutler," the investigator said, referring to Mr. Eppolito, , "but this guy should be nowhere near the stand."

Thanks to Alan Feuer

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