A juror who apparently was leaning toward a guilty verdict was dismissed Wednesday shortly before the defense rested in the racketeering trial of mob boss Joseph "Uncle Joe" Ligambi and six co-defendants.
Following a closed-door session before U.S. District Court Judge Eduardo Robreno, defense attorneys and prosecutors returned to the 15th floor courtroom where Robreno told the other members of the jury panel that "juror number five will not longer be sitting with us."
Robreno offered no other explanation, but told the jury it had nothing to do with an impropriety and that the trial would continue.
The juror, a middle-aged white male (the jury was chosen anonymously) was one of nine members of the panel who said they had read or heard about a gangland murder last week in South Philadelphia. Eight other jurors (there are five alternates) said they had not heard about the incident.
Robreno questioned each juror individually. The defense and prosecution were then permitted to review transcripts of that questioning. Based on the answers of juror number five the defense moved that he be dismissed.
While what the juror told the judge has not been made public, sources in the defense camp said his answers raised questions about whether he could continue to sit and impartially evaluate the case. According to one source, the juror indicated that he was already have trouble finding any evidence or testimony that supported the defendants' claim to innocence.
The juror's dismissal, came on the heels of testimony from defense witnesses Tuesday that challenged some of the charges in the case and bouyed the hopes of defense attorneys, defendants and their family members.
One source from that group noted that it was ironic that an event that was perceived as a negative for the defendants -- a gangland hit coming during a trial in which the defense had argued that their clients were non-violent -- could turn out to be a benefit for the Ligambi camp.
Had the hit not occurred, there would have been no reason for the judge to question the jurors and juror number five would have taken his thoughts and leanings with him into jury deliberations.
The trial recessed shortly after noon Wednesday after more testimony from a gambling expert called by defense attorney Margaret Grasso, the lawyer for mob soldier Damion Canalichio. Grasso attempted to use wiretapped conversations introduced by the government to show that while Canalichio may have been a gambler, he was not a bookmaker.
The often esoteric and contradictory testimony took up several hours over two days. Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Labor was able to point out in his cross-examination that an individual could be both a gambler and a bookmaker. More important, he alluded to a taped conversation in which Canalichio described his role in a gambling operation as a collector of debts.
Collecting debts, the gambling expert reluctantly conceded, was a part of a bookmaking operation.
Defense attorneys and the prosecution will be back in front of Robreno Thursday to discuss the jury charge -- Robreno's instruction to the panel on the law that applies to the case. Ligambi, 73, and the others have been charged with racketeering conspiracy tied to allegations of sports betting, loansharking, extortion and the operation of illegal video poker machines.
The defendants and the jury are not due back in court until Jan. 3 when closing arguments are to begin. The jury will likely get the case and begin deliberations after Robreno's charge on Jan. 7.
Family members and friends wished the defendants well as they were lead out of the courtroom. Only defendants Anthony Staino, and Gary Battaglini are free on bail. They, like the jurors, will be home for Christmas.
Ligambi, Canalichio, mob underboss Joseph "Mousie" Massimino and mob capos Joseph "Scoops" Licata and George Borgesi (Ligambi's nephew) are being held without bail and will spent the holiday break in the Federal Detention Center next door to the courthouse where they have been held since their indictment in May 2011.
Massimino has been predicting for the past week that he will be coming home soon.
His sister Patty, who has attended the two-month trial regularly, said she and other family members were hopeful.
"My brother would give you the food off his table and the shirt off his back," she said of the oft-convicted 62-year-old mobster who has spent nearly half of his adult life in prison for convictions tied to gambling, racketeering and drug dealing.