The trial of reputed mob boss Joseph Ligambi and six others inched toward an end Tuesday after the judge concluded that jurors were not unduly influenced by reports of a mob killing in South Philadelphia last week.
In private talks with U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno, nine jurors said they had heard about Wednesday's fatal shooting of Gino DiPietro, a lawyer told Ligambi supporters outside court.
Anthony Nicodemo, a reputed soldier not related to the Ligambi case, was charged with DiPietro's murder.
Just one juror said it might affect his view of the case, Ligambi's defense attorney, Edwin Jacobs, said. Lawyers had not decided whether they would seek to remove him.
The issue emerged as the defense began calling witnesses, including a longtime City Council aide who told jurors that his neighbor, Louis "Bent Finger Lou" Monacello - a mob turncoat and star prosecution witness - had once vowed to do "whatever he could" to avoid prison and routinely fumed about how much he despised Ligambi.
"He would say, 'I hate him, you don't understand how much I hate him,' " Jerry Davis testified.
Prosecutors say that the 73-year-old Ligambi, known as "Uncle Joe," presided over an extensive criminal network that controlled illegal gambling, loan-sharking, and extortion across the region.
Over two months, they played scores of recordings and called informants, gamblers, agents, and others to describe for jurors how the mob used its reputation for violence to run a crime ring.
Defense lawyers have derided the charges as "racketeering lite," a case built on decade-old recordings and outdated or unproven references to beatings or murders. Tuesday's roster of witnesses was designed to seed doubt or expose cracks in that case.
Chris Warren, the lawyer for Joseph "Scoops" Licata, called the owner of a North Jersey restaurant that prosecutors said hosted a May 2010 meeting of New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia mobsters, ostensibly to sort out their mutual interests.
The restaurateur, Chris Tocci, pointed out that the group of reputed criminals feasted and chatted in the busy public dining room at La Griglia that day instead of the upstairs banquet room usually reserved for sensitive private meetings.
And Margaret Grasso, lawyer for Damion Canalichio, called private investigator and former state trooper Donald Fredericks, who told jurors that betting slips and secret recordings suggest her client wasn't a bookmaker, but rather an active gambler.
The most colorful testimony came from Davis, the onetime Monacello friend and longtime driver to former Council President Anna C. Verna.
Davis said he and Monacello would socialize two or three times a week, going to dinner or sharing shots of Crown Royal and beer in the basement of Monacello's South 18th Street home.
More than once, Davis said, Monacello ranted about Ligambi and declared that he would be a better leader for the crime family.
"He said he should be running this thing, things would be different, nobody knows what they're doing," Davis said.
After Monacello was arrested with the other defendants in 2011, "did he ever tell you what he was going to do to get out of this?" Jacobs asked Davis.
"He basically told me he was going to do whatever he could" to save himself, Davis replied.
But Davis found himself in a bind Tuesday when Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor began cross-examination.
"Do you remember telling Lou Monacello that he should cooperate against Joe Ligambi?" Labor asked.
"Absolutely not," Davis quickly shot back.
Despite being asked three times, Davis was reluctant to concede there even was a mob.
"It's an ongoing thing, back and forth," he said. "Is it true? Is it not true? I don't know."
Labor also noted that Davis, who professed to be concerned about Monacello's conduct, chose to talk with defense investigators instead of reporting what he knew to police, the FBI, or even his Council bosses.
Ligambi's lawyer, Jacobs, had his own retort: None of them asked.
Defense lawyers are poised to rest sometime Wednesday. Robreno is expected to dismiss jurors for the rest of the month and have them return for closing arguments Jan. 3.