John Gotti pleaded not guilty Tuesday to two murder charges in a revised racketeering indictment that his attorneys believe was crafted in an effort to undercut Gotti's longstanding argument that he had withdrawn years ago from mob life.
Appearing thinner and pale, but beaming at friends in the courtroom, Gotti, also known as "Junior," entered his plea through attorney Charles Carnesi in federal court before a federal magistrate-judge in Manhattan.
Gotti, the Oyster Bay son of the late Gambino crime boss John Gotti, has been in jail since his indictment a year ago, and the charges unsealed Tuesday represented a reworking of the earlier case, which accused him of being part of a Gambino crime family conspiracy stretching from 1983 until today.
The new superseding indictment charges as separate crimes the murders of George Grosso in 1988 and Bruce John Gotterup in 1991 in connection with cocaine dealing in Queens. While both killings were death-penalty eligible, officials decided not to seek capital punishment, said Carnesi outside court.
Tuesday's arraignment took less than five minutes. Outside the courthouse Carnesi said he believed the new indictment was a tacit admission by prosecutors that they would have trouble dealing with Gotti's defense that he withdrew from mob activity more than five years before the indictment.
By separating the two drug murder charges, Carnesi said that prosecutors wouldn't have to worry about any statute of limitations defense, which had helped Gotti get three mistrials in federal court from 2005 to 2006 on conspiracy charges.
The main evidence against Gotti for the two homicides was the testimony of his former friend John Alite, who Carnesi said would admit to participating in the crimes and claim Gotti ordered him to do it.
"There is no credible evidence that John [Gotti] had anything to do with these charges," said Carnesi.
Guardian Angel founder Curtis Sliwa, who was hurt during a botched kidnapping prosecutors said was ordered by Gotti in the 1990s, said at the courthouse that he was disappointed that the federal government wouldn't seek the death penalty.
"I would have chosen they put the juice in the guy's caboose," said Sliwa, referring to lethal injection.