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June 2, 2011

Equal justice concerns prompt federal jury to quickly reject death sentence for crime boss

This New York Times piece, headlined "For Mobster, a Life Term, Not His First, Offers Relief," reports on a high-profile federal jury decision to reject a death sentence for a high-profile federal defendant. Here are the details in a report that concludes with an interesting account of a likely explanation for the jury's decision:

On Wednesday afternoon, the federal Bureau of Prisons Web site suggested something of an uncertain future for Vincent J. Basciano, known in some circles as Vinnie Gorgeous for his stint as the proprietor of a Hello Gorgeous beauty salon in the Bronx: It listed his release date (“actual or projected”) as “unknown.”

But the fate of the onetime acting boss of the Bonanno crime family, who in fact was already serving life in prison, had already been decided earlier that day by a federal jury in Brooklyn, which concluded the penalty phase of his racketeering and murder trial, his second racketeering case in the same courthouse in recent years.  The panel, after deliberating for less than two hours, chose a sentence of life without parole over death for the dapper, carefully coifed crime figure.

A lawyer for Mr. Basciano, Richard Jasper, said after the verdict that his client was relieved. Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the United States attorney in Brooklyn, Loretta E. Lynch, said that she respected the verdict and appreciated the jury’s service.

Mr. Basciano, 51, had been facing the death penalty after his conviction for ordering the killing of Randolph Pizzolo, a Bonanno associate whose murder, according to prosecutors, was payback for a drunken tirade that angered Mr. Basciano....

At the trial another Bonanno turncoat, Dominick Cicale, a former high-ranking member of the family, testified that he had helped Mr. Basciano kill Mr. Pizzolo, and that Mr. Basciano had once plotted to kill a prosecutor.

But Mr. Cicale’s appearance may have worked against the government’s push for a death sentence.  Defense lawyers pointed out in court that Mr. Cicale and other mobsters who were culpable in the death of Mr. Pizzolo were not facing the death penalty, and argued that Mr. Basciano should also be spared.

The jury apparently agreed. On their verdict sheet, a majority of the jurors listed it as one of their mitigating factors.  “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,” they wrote.

June 2, 2011 at 08:11 AM | Permalink


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It's difficult to get the DP for one mob figure offing another because, as the jury understands, and as Hyman Roth famously said in Godfather Part II, "This is the life we have chosen."

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 2, 2011 3:16:14 PM

Once again, the cosmic fairness argument rears its ugly head. Since when do murderers have a right to be spared simply because others were spared. Taken to its extreme, the lowest sentence for a crime becomes an entitlement.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 4, 2011 12:00:28 AM

To add to federalist's thought, there is, a priori, no particularly striking case for this outcome even if one accepts the "cosmic fairness" theory. As long as we're talking about cosmic rather than Constitutional limitations, there is an equally good argument that the "cosmically fair" thing to do is give the equally involved others the DP, not give Basciano LWOP.

Or, to look at it another way, would the "cosmic fairness" crowd say that, if a different mobster who had been in on the murder had been tried first and given the DP, would their theory require that Basciano get it too?

Sure they would -- when the cows come home.

Like the NYT, which laughably publishes this anti-DP piece as "news," what's going on is not really any big push for fairness, cosmic or otherwise. What's going on is simply Segment Twelve Zillion of the NYT's anti-DP campaign.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Jun 4, 2011 9:23:01 AM

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