By Judy Berman
The shadier side of life. It’s a look that few get to see, except in passing or on TV.
As a cops and court reporter, some encounters were brief. But the impressions lasted a lifetime.
In court, how a witness or suspect is perceived is important. Unfortunately, “Jonnie,” a witness in a murder trial, didn’t score well.
The prosecuting attorney said jurors just didn’t like “Jonnie “ Other factors were weighed in, too, of course: how consistent the witnesses’ stories were, how the witnesses held up under direct and cross-examination.
“Jonnie” said he had a “black heart.” I didn’t doubt it.
When “Jonnie” strutted into the courtroom during the retrial, he was a pale imitation of James Dean or tough guy Marlon Brando. He wore a tight, short-sleeved black T-shirt and black jeans. His thin, dirty-blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail.
One thought came to mind: dangerous.
Several times, “Jonnie” turned and gave a cold, hard stare to the defendants at the trial. They’d killed “Jonnie’s” father during a robbery. Neither was convicted of murder. They accepted a plea bargain to a reduced felony charge.
His thinly-disguised contempt for them was palpable.
“Jonnie” agreed to meet me the next afternoon, after the trial, for a follow-up interview. He wanted to meet near where he lived, but I preferred to meet him on more familiar – and less threatening – turf outside the paper I worked for.
He was a no-show. Maybe it was for the best.
Much of what he told me about the men he believed responsible for his father’s death was libelous and slanderous.
Or death threats – which my paper did not provide a platform for.
Those encounters are not confined to the news business.
A waitress, at one of our favorite restaurants in Central New York, once told us about some mobsters who dined at the fancy restaurant she worked at in Florida.
One night, she was serving wine to a large group of huge tippers. They gave $500 to the valet for keeping an eye on all their cars. Others also benefitted by their largesse.
She had difficulty reaching this one man at the end of the table who was up against the wall. When the waitress reached in front of him to pour the wine, another man stopped her and told her it was bad form in their culture.
The waitress, a self-confessed wiseguy, responded: “Whatever.”
Another employee told her that the man at the end of the table was “the man.”
“Right. He’s the man. He’s the man,” she said.
After the group left, she was told that “the man” was John Gotti.
“Here everyone else is getting $500 tips, and I’m worried I’ll be sleeping with the fishes,” she laughed. (They left her no tip.)
The incident rattled her.
Her home was next door to the restaurant. But, as she was nervous about what the mobsters might do, she said she drove a route that took in most of South Florida.
Have you ever had a close encounter of the dangerous kind? Or of a celebrity, or weird kind?
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Music Video: “Bad Company” by “Bad Company” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0ryRksbQvU
- Main Photo: Marlon Brando – “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1948) – Photographer: Carl Van Vechten – http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a6/Marlon_Brando_Streetcar_1948_d.jpg
- Photo: James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955) – publicity still for the film. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e6/James_Dean_in_Rebel_Without_a_Cause.jpg/540px-James_Dean_in_Rebel_Without_a_Cause.jpg
- Photo: John Gotti and Sammy “The Bull” Gravano - http://www.history.com/topics/john-gotti
- Video: Interview with Sammy “The Bull” Gravano and Diane Sawyer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hoTK1o2-QQ4