NEW YORK, Dec 2 – The scion of New York\’s leading Mafia family dramatically walked free from court for the fourth time in five years, after a jury failed to reach a verdict in his racketeering and murder trial.
"I will declare a mistrial," Judge Kevin Castel said, prompting John "Junior" Gotti, 45, to hug his lawyer and family members to sob with joy in the New York courtroom.
Castel read out a note from the 12 jurors saying: "We cannot reach a unanimous decision on any count. We are deadlocked."
Shortly after, Gotti was released on a two-million-dollar bail as prosecutors weighed their next move.
"I will go home and see my children," Gotti said outside the courthouse, taking his first steps of freedom since his dawn arrest in August 2008. "I\’m blessed."
Gotti, son of John "Dapper Don" Gotti, the notorious late Gambino crime family boss, left in a white BMW driven by his lawyer Charles Carnesi.
Police had to push back a crowd of journalists to clear the road, as three TV news helicopters hovered overhead.
The Manhattan federal prosecutor said he was "disappointed," but did not say whether he would seek a fifth trial.
"We are evaluating how to proceed and, in the near future, will inform the court," US Attorney Preet Bharara said.
Prosecutors were desperate to put Gotti away after three other trials over the last half decade ended with juries failing to reach the required unanimity on a verdict.
After jurors twice told Castel they were at a stalemate, he instructed them to relax during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and try once more.
But they needed just over half a day Tuesday, their 11th day of deliberations, to declare themselves almost evenly split on all charges.
Gotti was accused of involvement in three Cosa Nostra slayings and large-scale cocaine dealing during a decades-long racketeering career with the Gambino crime family in New York and Florida.
Throughout the 10-week trial, Gotti\’s lawyer insisted his client had long quit the mob, or "the life."
Carnesi accused the government of concocting a case based on testimony from convicted Mafia turncoats ready to say whatever was required in exchange for lighter sentences.
Dressed in elegant coat and tie, with black-rimmed reading glasses, Gotti\’s demeanour bore little resemblance to the vicious drug dealer, murderer and racketeer described by the government.
By contrast, jurors told journalists after the trial ended that they had been suspicious immediately of the star prosecution witness, a confessed mob hitman called John Alite, who was once a close Gotti friend.
In one of the tensest moments of the marathon trial, Gotti lost his temper, yelling at Alite: "You fag! Did I kill little girls? You\’re a punk. You\’re a dog. You\’re a dog. You always were a dog!"
Jurors were out of the room during the outburst.
The Gambinos are one of the historic Five Families of the Italian mafia operating in the New York area.
The Cosa Nostra once had huge sway over government, labour unions, and Las Vegas, as well as traditional criminal enterprises including narcotics, extortion and loan sharking.
The grip on the American imagination was even tighter.
Movies like "The Godfather" and the hit television series "The Sopranos" have made the mafia\’s history of honour codes, sharp suits, family ties and sordid violence, part of American mythology.
But there is little power or romance for today\’s goodfellas.
Gotti\’s father took over the Cosa Nostra after the slaying of the previous Gambino don, Paul Castellano, outside Sparks Steak House in Manhattan in 1985.
He beat three attempted prosecutions, earning the second nickname, "Teflon Don."
Testimony from a turncoat led to Gotti senior, by then the country\’s most famous mobster, being sentenced to life in prison in 1992 for racketeering, five murders and a long list of other serious crimes. He died in prison in 2002.
Prosecutors insisted to jurors that "Junior," as the son was nicknamed, followed in his father\’s footsteps.
The jury heard gruesome details of Gotti\’s supposed misdeeds, including the night he allegedly mocked "Th-th-that\’s all folks," in cartoon fashion, at a dying man.
But Gotti\’s defence argued that after being born into "the life" and rising high in the Gambino organisation, he then realized it was not for him.
Asked outside the court what he thought of the relentless campaign, Gotti\’s brother Peter told AFP: "I\’ll just show you this."
Then he rolled up his right sleeve to display the tattoo of a cross on his thick forearm, emblazoned with Martin Luther King\’s words: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."