By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Now it can be told, the real story of how the twisted murder case against a decorated law-enforcement officer falls apart:
First, the old cassette tapes of the old interviews with the crucial prosecution witness are unearthed from the old cardboard box that has sat in the closet for years. Next, the intrepid reporter carries the tapes to the living-room tape player. There is a red button that says "Record." You know that this button is your sworn enemy. Press it, and an innocent man may go to jail. The friendly buttons are "Play," "Rewind," and "Fast Forward."
According to your rough 10-year-old transcripts, this tape contains the same witness saying the exact opposite of what she has told prosecutors about two murders alleged against the defendant. Gingerly, the critical tape is inserted. There is a brief hissing sound. Then, clear as day, the voice of Jerry Capeci, ace gangland reporter andlike witness Linda Schiroa Bensonhurst native, is heard. "Testing, one, two, three, four," Capeci is saying.
Memo to journalism students: This is how professionals conduct important interviews. You say, "Testing," and check that the tape recorder is working.
The part where Schiro brings up the murder of mobster Larry Lampasi is supposed to be near the beginning. The prosecutors have promised in their opening statement to the court that Schiro will testify that she watched and listened as ex-FBI agent R. Lindley DeVecchio told her boyfriend, feared mobster Greg Scarpa Sr., where and when Lampasi could be found and killed. If Schiro told us what the transcript says she did, it is supposed to come right after she tells one of those Mafia side-splitters about how Scarpa's sister once got called before a grand jury. On the tape, Schiro laughs as she tells it. This apparently triggers another memory.
"And another thing too," Schiro starts to say. She is interrupted as someone emits a loud sneeze. Thankfully, no one has the decency to say, "Bless you," and Schiro can be heard finishing her thought: "See, when Lin is right, I give him right. He didn't tell Greg about Larry Lampasi."
Some of these words are not even on your transcript. Still, you don't believe your ears. You are nervous, keyed-up. The sneeze has you confused. What did she say exactly? You quickly punch a button on the tape player. It is not the dreaded "Record" button, but nor is it a friendly. You have hit the "On/off" switch for the entire player. The machine makes a loud popping sound and shudders to a halt.
The world starts spinning. You shout a curse at your clumsy fingers. In the past, your nickname was "All Thumbs." You have lived up to this reputation. Surely the tape has been destroyed. Now, the best-case scenario, should you come forward with your story about the witness with two versions of the truth, is that it will be your word against Schiro's, with only a lousy transcript for backup. You see yourself on the witness stand with a quartet of angry prosecutors, two of whom are big enough to be NFL linebackers, running right at you. Holding your breath, you turn the tape player back on.
Schiro's voice is again heard saying that DeVecchio is not the one who told Scarpa about Larry Lampasi. Except that this statement is now immediately followed by a loud, metallic burp, a noise suggesting that someone has monkeyed with the tape. Which someoneyounow have. You are not cut out for this. With trembling heart, you listen as the tape keeps rolling.
Astonishingly, no words seem to have been obscured. Schiro goes on about Lampasi, repeating her exonerating description of DeVecchio's non-role in this murder. "I know that for a fact," she says regarding the agent's absence from the schemewords that are not even on the old transcript. On the tape's flip side, Schiro can be heard denying that the agent had anything to do with another murder, that of mobster Joseph "Joe Brewster" DeDomenico. This is also diametrically opposed to what the D.A. has promised that Schiro will say on the stand.
You somehow manage to avoid erasing these statements. Apprised of this evidence, your lawyer wants you to copy the tapes. You look at the fragile cassettes and the flimsy strands of tape wound tightly inside and ponder that this may be all that lies between a Florida retirement community and a life sentence in Dannemora for ex-agent DeVecchio. You protest that you cannot be trusted with this mission.
Further memos to journalism students: One, throw nothing away. Two, conduct standard eye-ear coordination tests before handling crucial evidence.
You have received the best legal advice from your learned counselor, Zach Margulis-Ohnuma, about what to expect once your story appears. "The shit is going to hit the fan," he says.
Thanks to the miracle of the Web, this doesn't take long. The story appears on the Voice's site shortly after 4 p.m. on Tuesday, October 30. Thanks to the miracle of the Web, both defense and prosecution dispatch subpoenas by e-mail an hour later. "Is that legal?" you whine. "I've already accepted service," your attorney responds.