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Basciano guilty of murder, faces death

An undated copy of a surveillance photo of

An undated copy of a surveillance photo of Vincent Basciano was released by the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York. Credit: AP

Former Bonanno family acting boss Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano became the first major mob figure since World War II to face a death penalty trial Monday when a Brooklyn federal jury convicted him of murder.

The jury found Basciano, 51, guilty of ordering a hit on mob associate Randolph Pizzolo in 2004 on its fourth day of deliberations, and will begin considering whether he should be executed at a penalty phase trial next Monday.

Basciano had no visible reaction when the verdict was read, and no family members were in court with him. He is already serving a life sentence for the murder of another mobster, Frank Santoro.

The conviction followed a five-week trial that featured testimony from a half-dozen mobsters turned informers, including former Bonanno boss Joseph Massino, who secretly recorded Basciano during a jailhouse conversation admitting he ordered the Pizzolo killing.

Lawyers for Basciano, whose nickname stems from his one-time ownership of a beauty salon in the Bronx, declined to describe his reaction. "We're all disappointed, but we're prepared to go forward to the penalty phase and present our case," said Richard Jasper.

At the penalty phase of the trial beginning next week, the seven-man, five-woman anonymous jury will have to unanimously agree that Basciano should be executed by lethal injection for him to receive the death penalty. Otherwise, he will get another life sentence.

Prosecutors are expected to present evidence that Basciano tried in prison to hatch death plots against two key players in the Santoro trial -- prosecutor Greg Andres and U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who is now presiding over the death penalty case.

Mob experts say those plots are the most obvious explanation for why the Justice Department is seeking the death penalty for a fairly routine mob hit.

The defense has signaled that it is prepared to present personal factors -- that Basciano had a difficult childhood and is capable of acts of kindness -- and to show gangsters involved in more egregious violence were not executed.

One example expected to come up: Former Bonanno family underboss Sal Vitale, once of Dix Hills, who confessed to a role in 11 murders, became an informant and was freed after less than eight years in prison.

The last major mob figure to be executed was Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, the head of Murder Inc., in 1944.

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