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

Friday, June 3, 2011

Dizzying Price for Seeking the Death Penalty

In the middle of February, 300 men and women of voting age answered a special summons for jury duty at the federal courthouse in Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn. They were ushered into a grand ceremonial courtroom to see if they might be candidates to serve as jurors in the case of the United States of America v. Vincent Basciano.
Vincent Basciano, aka Vinny Gorgeous, was convicted of ordering another mob figure's killing.
Over the next few days, an additional 800 people would be brought to the courtroom for the same purpose. Each was paid the ordinary juror fee of $40 for a day’s service. Multiplied by 1,100 people, the federal government paid $44,000 just to find people who might — possibly, maybe — end up as jurors in the Basciano case.
It was as much a bonfire of cash as a trial, consuming, by reasonable estimates, more than $10 million in public money for a single murder case.
More than a year ago, the federal judge presiding over the case said it would be expensive and futile — that is, a waste of time and money — for the government to seek capital punishment for Mr. Basciano. Whatever happened in the trial, he would never leave prison alive.
As the judge, Nicholas G. Garaufis, pointed out in his letter, Mr. Basciano already was serving life without parole for other crimes “under extremely restrictive conditions in one of the nation’s most secure penal institutions.”
The judge’s letter was received, to no apparent effect. The decision to go for the death penalty had been made by the Justice Department when George W. Bush was president, and ratified by the Obama administration.
The murder trial concerned the shooting, on the orders of Mr. Basciano, of another gangster who had run up many infractions of some code of good mobster behavior. In due course, after other mobsters testified against him, Mr. Basciano was found guilty. This week, the jury voted unanimously that he should serve life without parole.
It took them just two and a half hours to decide that he should not be executed. The jurors filled out an eight-page verdict sheet, and it is worth the attention of people in Washington who make decisions whether to seek the death penalty. The jurors’ decision was rooted in a sense of fairness: all 12 jurors, in deciding against capital punishment, noted that at least three other people had been directly involved in the same murder ordered by Mr. Basciano, and none of them faced execution. The victim was a violent criminal, a circumstance that contributed to his death. And Mr. Basciano would be in a federal “super-max” prison, confined to a cell for 23 hours a day.
“The jurors were able to see this in two and a half hours,” said Richard Jasper, one of Mr. Basciano’s lawyers. “Some of the informants had murdered a whole football team of people. Why was Basciano death-penalty-worthy and these other characters weren’t? Because he didn’t cooperate?”
On the verdict sheet, 10 of the jurors signed onto a handwritten note: “There are other members of organized crime that have admitted to an equal or greater number of serious crimes that are not facing the death penalty, much less incarcerated.”
Any trial costs money. Because capital punishment is the ultimate penalty, the law requires far more precautions than it does for a garden-variety murder case. So instead of one chief defense lawyer, the court appointed two lead lawyers who specialize in death-penalty cases to represent Mr. Basciano; both were paid $187 an hour. A third lawyer also was named to the defense team, and for a part of the case, a fourth lawyer wrote legal briefs.
The final bills for the defense have not been submitted, but as of April, they had reached $4.3 million. The trial transcript ran to more than 9,000 pages, and it was provided to lawyers every day.
The jury of 18 people, six of them alternates, sat through a trial that ran more than five weeks. They were taken out of their daily lives; in at least some cases, the businesses continued to pay their salaries.
How much did the case cost the government? It is safe to say that the four prosecutors on the case put in just as much time as the defense. They may not have been paid $187 an hour, but then again, their services are part of the overhead borne by the taxpayer.
“We don’t prosecute cases based on what it costs,” said Robert Nardone, a spokesman for the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn. “We just don’t put a price tag on it.”



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