A Blast From the Past

1992 - On this day, April 2, in New York, Mafia boss John Gotti is convicted of murder and racketeering and is later sentenced to life in prison.

From The New York Times -- original report on the "final" verdict:
Published: April 03, 1992
John Gotti, Guilty at Last

After years of dodging conviction and making the Government seem impotent, John Gotti stands convicted of racketeering that includes the 1985 murder that promoted him to boss of the Gambino crime family.

To win that verdict, the Justice Department stretched its plea-bargaining, eavesdropping and courtroom advocacy powers to new and necessary lengths. Yesterday's judgment in a Federal court in New York City was a major achievement, a community and national service.

Three times in recent years Mr. Gotti defeated Federal and state prosecutors, leaving them with only complaints of jury-tampering and witness intimidation. This time the United States Attorney's office in Brooklyn produced devastating evidence from the defendant's bugged conversations and the turncoat testimony of his trusted associate Salvatore (Sammy Bull) Gravano.

How ironic that Mr. Gotti, now convicted of arranging the murder of his predecessor, Paul Castellano, at the curb of a Manhattan steakhouse, was overheard on F.B.I. tapes deriding Mr. Castellano for carelessly letting himself be bugged. And how careless of Mr. Gotti to trust his consigliere, Mr. Gravano, so profoundly as to designate him to take over the family in the event of a long prison term for Mr. Gotti.

And how counter to the romantic mythology of organized crime for Mr. Gravano to break a Cosa Nostra vow of silence to betray his boss. In fact, there was little romance about the squalid operations of Mr. Gotti and his acting underboss, Frank Locascio, also convicted yesterday.

Did the Government pay too high a price for Mr. Gravano's testimony that he witnessed and joined some of the Gotti gang's worst crimes, including the Castellano murder? The turncoat confessed to participating in 19 killings, half of them ordained by the Gambino family. Yet he stands to gain reduction of his current 20-year sentence. A high price to be sure, but it bought credible testimony from Mr. Gravano that helped the jury convict a vicious gangster after only two days of deliberations.

Another price was paid when the jury, rightly sequestered for the 10-week trial, was kept anonymous. Resort to nameless jurors risks unfairness because it implies that jurors are potential victims of defense harassment. But the technique was amply justified by evidence of Mr. Gotti's past willingness to interfere with jurors through bribery or intimidation.

At the last moment, U.S. Attorney Andrew Maloney risked reversal by telling the jurors in closing argument that he could understand if they were anxious for their safety. Appeals courts, however, are amazingly tolerant when reviewing allegedly prejudicial remarks by prosecutors in the rough-and-tumble of rackets trials.

Laborious surveillance and evidence collection, high-stakes plea bargaining and hardball courtroom tactics combined to bring swift guilty verdicts. Yesterday's judgment could mean a life behind bars for a gangster who had acquired an air of invincibility. Federal law enforcement, after assuming high risks, has earned the nation's respectful thanks.