Tale of the Tape

Rewind: The story behind my story of the FBI murder case

The defense subpoena demands any notes and recordings related to the four homicide victims. The D.A. wants everything you own. Both subpoenas command you to appear in court the next morning, evidence in hand.

A delicate dance now ensues: You are willing to provide those materials that pertain directly to the murders at issue, nothing more. New York has a wonderful shield law that protects journalists from being compelled to give up their notes. But it's possible that Judge Gustin Reichbach will order you to produce everything. Should you balk at that order, there are 17 heavily armed court officers prowling the courtroom, ever ready to enforce the judge's will. Just try sitting in the seat reserved for the judge's mother-in-law and see what happens.

You now work late into the night at the Voice's office, trying to black out all but the murder references on the transcripts. This is called "redaction," and it is harder than it looks. Government agencies have entire departments to do this. You are decidedly inexpert at this task as well. Even after rubbing them with a massive black marker borrowed from the copy department, the darkened words still glitter mockingly in the light. "Try running it through the copier," suggests a passing intern, all of 20 years old. Hmm. So that's how it's done.

Off the hook: ex-fbi agent R. lindley devecchio
photo: Frances M. Roberts
Off the hook: ex-fbi agent R. lindley devecchio

Details

Tall Tales of a Mafia Mistress
by Tom Robbins
This is the story that torpedoed the case against former FBI agent accused of helping the mob commit four murders.

In court the next morning, you choose a seat on the back bench, praying for invisibility. The judge summons you and your attorney forward. Capeci, seated next to you, mumbles something. "See you in Rikers," it sounds like. Assistant District Attorney Michael Vecchione, he of the massive shoulders, stuns the courtroom by saying that if the tapes bear out what the article says, his office is prepared to dismiss its case. There is a loud murmur and shuffling of feet. In another era, the reporters would have bolted for the door, grabbing pay phones, shouting, "Get me rewrite!" Today, they finger their cell phones and eye the prowling court officers. No one moves.

In an amicable agreement, the judge directs attorneys and reporter to retire to the D.A.'s office to listen to the tapes. It is a small, windowless conference room. There are five assistant D.A.'s, two defense attorneys, you, and your lawyer. The A.D.A.'s glower. Defense lawyers Mark Bederow and Ginnine Fried look hopefully expectant. The cassettes are inserted into the machine. After some fumbling, Capeci's voice is heard, followed by Schiro's husky Brooklyn accent. She has just stated that the defendant had nothing to do with the Lampasi murder when the dreaded "pop" is heard.

"Wait a minute," cries prosecutor Joe Alexis, who is twice Vecchione's size. "Play that again." The metallic belch replays. " What was that?" Alexis demands, his eyes hitting you with twin bolts of suspicion. "Uh, that was me, hitting the off button," you respond sheepishly. Alexis glares, then nods for the tape to continue.

Memo to journalism students: Avoid small rooms filled with big prosecutors.

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