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Saturday, July 01, 2006

The law is the law

Lightning strikes

Judge Acquits 2 Ex-Detectives in Mob Killings

Published: July 1, 2006

A federal judge tossed out the racketeering convictions of two retired New York City detectives yesterday — including eight murders for the mob — because the statute of limitations had run out, despite citing overwhelming evidence that the men had committed "heinous and violent crimes."

The ruling by Judge Jack B. Weinstein entirely reversed the conviction of the two detectives, Louis J. Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, who were found guilty in April of some of the most stunning corruption charges in the city's history.

Although a jury found that Mr. Eppolito and Mr. Caracappa had participated, as paid assassins, in killings for the mob, the judge acquitted the two men on the murder counts of the racketeering conspiracy, though not on evidentiary grounds. But the judge left open the possibility that the prosecution could seek to retry the defendants on a drug charge, and Mr. Eppolito, alone, on a money-laundering count.

The ruling, in a 102-page order that touched upon Thomas More and the sanctity of the Constitution, was the latest and most severe turn in the 15-month case.

It shocked the United States attorney's office in Brooklyn, which said it would appeal. And it bitterly disappointed the families of the victims in the case, some of whom had given heart-rending testimony at the two men's sentencing last month, where they were given life terms.

The decision sent a surge of joy through the offices of the defendants' new lawyers, one of whom, Joseph Bondy, called it "the most substantial legal victory" in recent history.

It also threatened to disrupt the careers — and the book deals — of some investigators in the case. And it led to the bizarre prospect that the two detectives — whom Judge Weinstein outright accused in his order of being stone-cold killers — could walk free from federal detention in Brooklyn as early as next week.

The judge waxed eloquent in acknowledging that his decision might seem strange to some.

"It will undoubtedly appear peculiar to many people that heinous criminals such as the defendants, having been found guilty on overwhelming evidence of the most despicable crimes of violence, should go unwhipped of justice," he wrote.

"Yet our Constitution, statutes and morality require that we be ruled by the law, not vindictiveness or the advantages of the moment."

The judge also wrote that even though there was little doubt that Mr. Eppolito and Mr. Caracappa had "kidnapped, murdered, and assisted kidnappers and murderers," he had no choice but to let them go because the five-year statute of limitations in conspiracy cases had run out.

His ruling was hardly the first mention of the statute of limitations. Virtually from the outset of the case, Judge Weinstein said he was queasy about the decision to accuse the men of an overarching conspiracy that included the eight gangland murders, all in Brooklyn in the 1980's and 1990's, and a much more recent — and less serious — charge of selling an ounce of methamphetamine in Las Vegas last year.

These guys are scumbags of the highest order. But the feds overreached. They should have left the murder charges to the local DA. It is more than likely they will face state charges on the murders, because that's not double jeopardy.

But if you live in a democracy, with fair trials, they have to be fair. Which means they have to be fair, even if the guilty walk free.

posted by Steve @ 1:16:00 AM

1:16:00 AM

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