Pubdate: Sat, 01 Jul 2006
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2006 The New York Times Company
Author: Robert D. McFadden


The wife and daughter of one murder victim called it a shock. Lawyers 
for the men who had been convicted called it sound legal reasoning, a 
vindication of their trial strategy, and said that freedom on bail -- 
not life in prison -- might be next. Prosecutors, carefully avoiding 
hints of disappointment, promised to appeal.

After months of twists and turns in a federal case that ended in 
guilty verdicts for two former city police detectives, including 
convictions in eight murders for the mob a generation ago, Judge Jack 
B. Weinstein's decision yesterday to toss out the convictions on a 
statute-of-limitations ruling stunned practically everyone involved, 
although the defendants' lawyers were calmly making "I-told-you-so" statements.

While reaction was swift and predictable -- an abyss between victims' 
families and their lawyers on one side, and defendants and their 
representatives on the other -- there was general agreement that 
Judge Weinstein had made a hard decision on principle, according to 
law, and some called it courageous.

The judge acknowledged that the evidence at trial had overwhelmingly 
established that Louis J. Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa had 
committed killings for the mob, kidnappings and other "heinous and 
violent crimes." He noted, though, that a five-year federal statute 
of limitations had lapsed, compelling him to set aside the jury's 
verdict in his courtroom on April 6.

"It was really a very courageous decision," said Joseph A. Bondy, Mr. 
Eppolito's latest lawyer. "We're relieved, obviously. Mr. Eppolito 
and his family are relieved beyond words." Mr. Bondy -- who succeeded 
Bruce Cutler, the trial lawyer, after Mr. Eppolito accused him of 
incompetent representation (a charge not upheld in a post-trial 
hearing) -- said he would seek bail for his client next week.

Mr. Cutler, sounding a bit bruised by his former client's accusation, 
calling it a "distasteful calumny," said he had mixed feelings about 
the new turn. But instead of talking about Mr. Eppolito, he focused 
on his trial defense, which cited the statute of limitations as a 
flaw in the prosecution's case. He said he was gratified that the 
judge -- a jurist of "courage and independence" -- had agreed.

As for losing the trial, Mr. Cutler said the gravity of the 
accusations -- cold-blooded murders for hire, kidnapping and other 
crimes -- had made it "hard for the jury to say not guilty" on a fine 
point of law.

Edward Hayes, who represented Mr. Caracappa during the trial, also 
praised Judge Weinstein and called his ruling "the second major 
rejection for the Justice Department in two days," apparently 
referring to the United States Supreme Court's repudiation on 
Thursday of the Bush administration's plan to place Guantanamo Bay 
detainees on trial before military commissions.

Mr. Hayes, who was also accused of incompetent defense by his client 
in a failed bid for a new trial, said he had not talked to Mr. 
Caracappa about the latest ruling. Asked if he would ever represent 
Mr. Caracappa again, he said: "No. I defended him once. I showed him 
what kind of man I was, and he showed what kind of man he is. I'm not 
bitter. It's a business."

Judge Weinstein's ruling was a stunning blow to prosecutors, who had 
presented evidence on violent crimes as part of a larger racketeering 
conspiracy. The judge held that the conspiracy begun in New York in 
the 1980's had ended when the defendants retired to Las Vegas and 
were no longer in contact with the Luchese crime family, which had hired them.

Prosecutors with the United States attorney's office in Brooklyn had 
argued that the murders were part of a continuing conspiracy that 
lasted through a 2005 drug deal with a federal informant and that the 
statute of limitations thus did not apply. Speaking for the office, 
Robert Nardoza issued a short statement.

"The jury in this case unanimously found Eppolito and Caracappa 
guilty of racketeering and murder based on overwhelming evidence," it 
said. "And based on the law that was given to them by the court, each 
of the 12 jurors specifically found that the defendants' heinous 
crimes were committed within the statute of limitations. We intend to 
pursue an appeal."

The ruling was wrenching news to the slain men's families, some of 
whose members had made impassioned statements at the trial. Michal 
Weinstein, 30, the daughter of Israel Greenwald, a diamond dealer 
killed in 1986 and whose remains were discovered under the floor of a 
Brooklyn garage in 2005, said her mother had called her with news of 
the decision.

"We want to see that whoever is responsible -- well, we know who's 
responsible -- for our father's murder is punished, in accordance 
with the law," Ms. Weinstein said in a phone interview. "It's taken 
the breath out of everybody. It's just shocking. I'm still in shock, honestly."

Her mother, Leah Greenwald, 52, said that while shocked by the 
ruling, she respected it. "We, my daughters and I, do not feel 
betrayed, but we are shocked and we still believe that ultimately the 
law will work," she said, her voice calm but with a hint of a quaver. 
She became more emotional as she spoke of 19 years of not knowing her 
husband's fate.

At one point in the early 1990's, she said, the family rented an 
apartment a block away from the Nostrand Avenue garage, near Avenue 
I, where her husband's remains were found. "I lived there for two 
years, I parked my car right across the street," she said bitterly. 
"We were looking for him, and now that we know, it is simply 
unbelievable that he was so close."

The Greenwalds' lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, called Judge Weinstein 
"wise and careful" and noted that, while disappointed in his 
decision, "I respect his ruling." The family, he said, would 
"continue to pursue justice for the murder of their father/husband in 
a civil forum and in any future criminal proceedings at either the 
state or federal level."

Gerald L. Shargel, a lawyer who has defended mobsters, including John 
J. Gotti, the late don of the Gambino crime family, said the 
prosecution "had to have known that it was a reach" to use the 
racketeering conspiracy charge "because the statute of limitations 
really was pushing the envelope." Mr. Shargel had no role in the 
trial of the turncoat detectives.

If the prosecution's appeal is denied, new trials on lesser drug and 
money-laundering charges could follow. Mr. Shargel said that New York 
State had no statute of limitations on murder, and that the case 
might have been -- or still could be -- prosecuted by state 
authorities. "Jurisdiction had everything to do with this case," he said.

Anthony Ramirez contributed reporting for this article.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman