Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

To Avoid the Death Penalty, Kill Another Killer

Here’s how the death penalty works — or, to be more accurate, doesn’t work — in New York. It’s usually not about the killer, but rather the victim. The case against one Vincent Basciano in Federal District Court in Brooklyn may be no exception.
Last week, a jury found Mr. Basciano guilty of having ordered a gangland killing in his pursuit of upward mobility within the Bonanno crime family. Now it must decide if he should be put to death. The alternative is to condemn him to life in prison, on top of the life sentence he is already serving for a different murder. One way or another, Mr. Basciano — Vinny Gorgeous, to his old mob mates — is going nowhere you want to be.
The death penalty phase shifted into high gear on Wednesday with testimony from Joseph C. Massino, a longtime head of the Bonanno family, who made history of a sort in April when he became the first official mob boss to testify against an old confrere.
Once again, the contrasts between this star government witness and the defendant were striking. There sat Mr. Basciano, trim and impeccably tailored, his meticulous haircut suggesting that prison barbers are more skillful than any of us may have thought. Mr. Massino, on the other hand, was exceedingly peccable, dressed as if he were headed to the gym. Only he didn’t look like someone who had ever seen a salad bar, let alone the inside of a health club.
His testimony — filled with requisite forget-about-its and characters with names like Anthony Stutters and Michael Nose — was a litany of occasions when Mr. Basciano came to him seeking permission to kill someone. Each time, Mr. Massino testified, he empathically told Mr. Basciano no. Once, the intended victim was a woman. “I thought he was crazy,” Mr. Massino said. “Kill her for what?”
The prosecutors’ goal was clearly to portray Mr. Basciano as a mad dog, ready to pounce on anyone — so far over the top that he even proposed killing a federal prosecutor who had angered him. That, Mr. Massino said, he would in no way permit. Eventually, he said, Mr. Basciano agreed that he should, yes, “forget about it.”
This part of the testimony may be crucial.
Most of those said to have been on Mr. Basciano’s hit parade were fellow gangsters. The history of capital cases in New York strongly suggests that if you murder someone who is every bit as repugnant as you are — a fellow mobster or drug dealer or gang member — you may go to prison till the day after forever but you are unlikely to find yourself strapped to a table with a needle in your arm. Juries here have been loath to impose a death sentence on a defendant for killing someone at least as unsavory as he is.
But a prosecutor? That’s a different ball game. Not surprisingly, Mr. Basciano’s lawyers sought to cast Mr. Massino as a man who spun fables to the government in the hope of getting a better deal for himself while he serves a life sentence of his own.
Trying to predict what a jury might do is a fool’s errand. Bear in mind, though, that no inmate in New York has been executed in a federal case since 1954, and no one in a state case since 1963.
In recent years, only one federal defendant in this state has been condemned to die. That was Ronell Wilson, who mercilessly killed two undercover police detectives in 2003. But even he will now get to live. Early last summer, appellate judges overturned his death sentence on the grounds that prosecutors had violated his constitutional rights.
All it takes to spare a defendant the needle is one dissenting juror. On Wednesday, Mr. Brasciano, 51, didn’t look like someone steeling himself for an early end.



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