A jury today acquitted reputed Mafia boss John Gotti of all charges in the shooting of a union leader, marking yet another victory for Gotti over the government and polishing his reputation for invincibility as the "Teflon Don."
As the jury read its verdict, the bystanders in the crowd began to cheer and the judge warned them he would sentence each to 30 days in jail unless they kept quiet.
Gotti's lawyer kissed him and shook hands in jubilation, and Gotti smiled and rapped his hands on the table.
After being sequestered from the start of the two-week trial to prevent tampering, the seven-man, five-woman jury deliberated four days before notifying Acting Justice Edward McLaughlin it had reached a verdict at state Supreme Court in Manhattan.
Gotti, 49, who at the time of his arrest gave "3-to-1 odds I beat this case," was surrounded by his legal team as the verdict was read in the packed, cavernous courtroom.
At the close of the trial, Gotti scoffed at the prosecution team, which is officially identified as "The People of the State of New York."
"The people aren't trying me. The people like me. At least I think they do," Gotti told reporters.
The reputed godfather of the Gambino crime family was accused of ordering the wounding of John O'Connor, business agent of Carpenters Union Local 608, in retaliaion for the wrecking of a mob-linked restaurant built with non-union labor.
On May 7, 1986, O'Connor, 53, was shot four times in the buttocks and legs by members of a murderous Irish gang known as the Westies, which was trying to curry favor with the Gambinos.
Gotti and his co-defendant, Anthony Guerrieri, 60, an alleged Gambino soldier who is accused of arranging the hit, were each indicted on two counts of assault and one of conspiracy.
A guilty verdict would have made Gotti, a convicted killer and hijacker, a three-time loser. That would have enabled the government to ask a judge to declare Gotti a "persistent felon" and sentence him to life behind bars.
But Gotti has consistently slipped from the government's grip in recent years. He has been described by law enforcement officials as the most elusive gangster since Al Capone.
In 1985, he went to trial for assaulting a refrigerator repairman and robbing him of $325 during an argument over a parking space in Queens. The repairman learned who Gotti was, checked himself into a hospital, developed amnesia and said he could no longer remember who hit him. The judge had no choice but to dismiss the charges.
Gotti also was acquitted in 1986 of running an 18-year racketeering enterprise that included gambling, loan-sharking, truck hijackings, armored car robberies and three murders from 1968 to 1985.
Defense lawyers Bruce Cutler and Gerald Shargel in their summations accused the government of succumbing to "Mafia hysteria" and a "lust for headlines" in its determination to convict Gotti.
But Assistant Dist. Atty. Michael Cherkasky said their reaction was proof of "how loathsome and desperate they are to besmirch anyone or anything that threatens the dark powers of John Gotti."