A beaming, energized John "Junior" Gotti left court a free man Tuesday after 16 months in jail when a federal jury in Manhattan was unable to reach a verdict on mob racketeering charges against him for the fourth time in five years.
"I want to go home and see my children," the one-time Gambino family leader and father of six told a media scrum before he was whisked away in a white BMW outside the courthouse. "There's a very good chance, Thank God, I'm going to have a healthy and happy Christmas with my family."
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, in a statement, expressed "disappointment" at yet another deadlock after three mistrials in 2005 and 2006, but said prosecutors hadn't ruled out putting Gotti on trial one more time on racketeering and two drug-related murder charges.
"I hope to God not," Gotti, 45, of Oyster Bay, said of a possible fifth trial. "But if we have to be prepared for it, we'll be prepared for it."
The jury reported an unbreakable deadlock just after 3 p.m. - the third time during 11 days that they reported being stuck. When U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel quickly declared a mistrial, Gotti hugged lawyer Charles Carnesi and gave the high sign to clapping members of his family. He was released an hour later on a $2 million bond.
Four jurors who met later with reporters said they were equally divided from the start, and ended up 6-5 for conviction with one undecided on the racketeering charge. They said there were slight 7-5 and 6-5-1 majorities for acquittal on the charges that Gotti ordered the murders of cocaine dealer George Grosso in 1988 and bouncer Bruce John Gotterup in 1991.
The members of the anonymous jury who met with reporters all seemed to favor acquittal - they said they'd like to have dinner with Gotti - and urged prosecutors to drop the case for good.
"They should stop this," said Juror 9, a real estate lawyer. "It's ridiculous."
They said they were equally divided on Gotti's claim he withdrew from the mob in 1999, but agreed they didn't trust the government's star witness - former Gotti friend and lieutenant John Alite, who tied the son of the late Gambino boss John J. Gotti to the two murders, extensive drug dealing and an array of other crimes.
"The whole jury agreed he was the least credible witness," said Juror 5, a software manager, who said Alite seemed too anxious to pin everything on Gotti. "That was unanimous."
Gotti faced life in prison if he had been convicted. The fourth straight hung jury rivaled the record of court success of his father, nicknamed the "Teflon Don," who won acquittal in three trials before he was convicted of racketeering in 1992.
The trial lasted two months. Prosecutors relied heavily on mob informants seeking leniency in their own cases, such as Alite. Gotti didn't take the stand, but his defense team used snippets of jailhouse tapes, ex-cellmates and friends to try to establish that he saw the light when he was imprisoned in 1999 and quit the mob.
For the Gotti clan, which sees itself as unjustly persecuted, the result was emotional. "Let it go, let it go, let it go," Gotti's sister Victoria, weeping, said outside the 26th-floor courtroom. "We're no organized crime family. We're just a family."
Gotti, in an expansive mood at an impromptu news conference as he waited to sign his bail papers, shook hands with chief prosecutor Elie Honig, said he'd happily have jurors over for Christmas dinner, and empathized with his mother, Victoria, who had to watch her husband and son spend so much time on trial and in jail.
"She's had the most horrendous life anyone can imagine," he said. "I watched these proceedings age my mother."
Another retrial would be unusual, but not unprecedented. Technically, this trial was a separate, though overlapping, case from the three that ended in hung juries in 2005 and 2006, because it added charges of drug dealing and murder to the earlier indictments.
Skeptics said the jury's distrust of key witness Alite was a bad omen for a retrial, and urged the government to give up. "Alite is not a fine wine," said lawyer Ron Kuby, who testified as a defense witness. "He does not improve with age."
But other experts said the murder and drug charges would be hard for prosecutors to drop after only one try.
"Given the fact you have new charges, including two murders, that are serious, one would think that would influence the government," said George Stamboulidis, a lawyer with the firm Baker Hostetler and former federal mob prosecutor.