Monday, April 2, 2012

John Gotti Convicted of Murder & Racketeering - 1992

On this date in 1992, a jury in New York finds mobster John Gotti, nicknamed the Teflon Don for his ability to elude conviction, guilty on 13 counts, including murder and racketeering. In the wake of the conviction, the assistant director of the FBI’s New York office, James Fox, was quoted as saying, “The don is covered in Velcro, and every charge stuck.” On June 23 of that year, Gotti was sentenced to life in prison, dealing a significant blow to organized crime.

John Joseph Gotti, Jr., was born in the Bronx, New York, on October 27, 1940. He rose through the ranks of the Gambino crime family and seized power after ordering the December 1985 murder of then-boss Paul Castellano outside a Manhattan steakhouse. Behind closed doors, Gotti was a ruthless, controlling figure. Publicly, he became a tabloid celebrity, famous for his swagger and expensive suits, which earned him another nickname, the Dapper Don.

During the 1980s, Gotti’s lawyer Bruce Cutler won him acquittals three times. A jury member in one of those trials was later convicted of accepting a bribe to acquit the mob boss. In December 1990, Gotti was arrested at the Ravenite Social Club, his headquarters in New York City's Little Italy neighborhood. The ensuing trial, which started in January 1992, created a media frenzy. Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, one of Gotti’s top soldiers, made a deal with the government and testified in court against his boss. Gravano admitted to committing 19 murders, 10 of them sanctioned by Gotti. In addition, prosecutors presented secret taped conversations that incriminated Gotti. After deliberating for 13 hours, the jury, which had been kept anonymous and sequestered during the trial, came back with a verdict on April 2, 1992, finding Gotti guilty on all counts. The mob boss was sent to the U.S. Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, where he was held in virtual solitary confinement. On June 10, 2002, Gotti died of throat cancer at age 61 at a Springfield, Missouri, medical center for federal prisoners.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Marvin Gaye Shot and Killed - 1984

On this date in 1984, Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his father.

He was the Prince of Motown, the soulful voice behind hits as wide-ranging as "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" and "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)." Like his label-mate Stevie Wonder, Gaye both epitomized and outgrew the crowd-pleasing sound that made Motown famous. Over the course of his roughly 25-year recording career, he moved successfully from upbeat pop to "message" music to satin-sheet soul, combining elements of Smokey Robinson, Bob Dylan and Barry White into one complicated and sometimes contradictory package. But as the critic Michael Eric Dyson put it, the man who "chased away the demons of millions...with his heavenly sound and divine art" was chased by demons of his own throughout his life.

If the physical cause of Marvin Gaye's death was straightforward—"Gunshot wound to chest perforating heart, lung and liver," according to the Los Angeles County Coroner—the events that led to it were much more tangled. On the one hand, there was the longstanding conflict with his father dating back to childhood. Marvin Gay, Sr., (the "e" was added by his son for his stage name) was a preacher in the Hebrew Pentecostal Church and a proponent of a strict moral code he enforced brutally with his four children. He was also, by all accounts, a hard-drinking cross-dresser who personally embodied a rather complicated model of morality. By some reports, Marvin Sr. harbored significant envy over his son's tremendous success, and Marvin Jr. clearly harbored unresolved feelings toward his abusive father.

Those feelings spilled out for the final time in the Los Angeles home of Marvin Gay, Sr., and his wife Alberta. Their son the international recording star had moved into his parents' home in late 1983 at a low point in his struggle with depression, debt and cocaine abuse. Only one year removed from his first Grammy win and from a triumphant return to the pop charts with "Sexual Healing," Marvin Gaye was in horrible physical, psychological and financial shape, and now he found himself living in the same house as the man who must have been at the root of many of his struggles.

After an argument between father and son escalated into a physical fight on the morning of April 1, 1984, Alberta Gay was trying to calm her son in his bedroom when Marvin Sr. took a revolver given to him by Marvin Jr. and shot him three times in his chest. Marvin Gaye's brother, Frankie, who lived next door, and who held the legendary singer during his final minutes, later wrote in his memoir that Marvin Gaye's final, disturbing statement was, "I got what I wanted....I couldn't do it myself, so I made him do it."