New York

The Irv Gotti Trial: The Jury Deliberates

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I worked at the Maryland State Bar Association for three years, but I still know virtually nothing about law. So when I confidently predicted a not-guilty ruling yesterday, I really thought the jury would go off into its little room, deliberate for like half an hour, and come out to set the Lorenzos free. I still think that’s what’s going to happen eventually, but I underestimated how hard it is for twelve people chosen basically at random to sit and agree unanimously on anything. The jury at Irv and Chris Lorenzo’s money-laundering trial appears to be pretty old (only a couple of people who could be under thirty) but other than that it’s diverse, not dominated by one race or gender. One of the other reporters pointed out to me that it’s a federal court, so the jurors aren’t all necessarily from Brooklyn; they could be from all over the region. And they haven’t returned a verdict yet. Maybe they will tomorrow. Maybe not.

There’s not a whole lot to say about the scene in the courtroom today. The judge spent about an hour instructing the jury on the exact meanings of money-laundering and conspiracy to commit money-laundering, the two the Lorenzos are charged with, as well as their responsibilities to be impartial and only deliver a guilty verdict if it’s beyond reasonable doubt, all that stuff. The the jury disappeared and everyone spent the entire day waiting for them to come back. It’s hard to overstate how boring it is waiting around in the courtroom for something to happen, especially after you’ve spent three weeks there. The benches are hard and uncomfortable, and the New Yorker I brought wasn’t really enough to keep me entertained all day (a profile of a type designer?). The court officer kicked me out once when I came in with a bag of Doritos because you can’t eat Doritos in a courtroom. Ja Rule and 7 Aurelius were there, but I’ve gotten used to seeing those dudes. (7 told me yesterday that he sometimes reads my stuff, which is awesome, even if he’s just blowing smoke up my ass.) Ethan Brown, the guy who wrote the just-released rap-and-crime book Queens Reigns Supreme, has been in the courtroom just about every day in the press section, and half the reporters are reading the book; I should probably run out and get a copy too. And that was it. It was funny seeing the Fader dudes bug out about seeing Ja Rule at the Lady Sovereign show last night; I was like, “Pssh, I see Ja Rule every day.”

I was saving this until after the trial actually ended, but I don’t know when that’s going to be, so I’ll ask it now: why did Supreme want to make a movie in the first place? As far as I can tell, this guy was a drug lord who basically ran Queens in the 80s but had fallen on hard times by the late 90s, living off his name and some drug sales down in my hometown. He got knocked a couple of years ago for a double-murder in Baltimore, and he’ll go on trial early next year for that and some other crimes. He’s facing the death penalty. I don’t know much about his case, but it seems likely that he made himself more visible by making this movie, more of a target. He’d spent years in prison before making Crime Partners, and it was his second attempt at making a movie; he’d previously tried to option another Donald Goines book, Black Gangster. He sank hundreds of thousands of dollars into the movie, hiring a screenwriter and then doing rewrites himself, casting Clifton Powell and Ice-T and a whole bunch of rappers for cameos. Why? If he was running low on money, why sink what little he had left venturing into a notoriously volatile business? I haven’t seen the movie, but it’s hard to imagine that his goals were strictly artistic. If they were, why would he be spending all his time with a fluffy pop-rap crew like Murder Inc.? Unless he was really, really into fluffy pop-rap? Maybe he was.

The moment from the trial that’s stuck in my head the hardest was the opening-day testimony of Phillip Banks, a former member of Supreme’s gang, the Supreme Team. Banks was a huge, scary guy, grunting out his answers and mumbling to the lawyers that he didn’t trust any of them. Banks testified that he’d given Irv money in the early 90s on Supreme’s orders and that he wasn’t happy about it, since the money would’ve been his otherwise. He said that he just knew Irv was “a music guy,” that he didn’t give a fuck about him. The first time he met Irv, Banks made a big point of taking out his gun and playing with it; he told the court that he’d been under the impression that Irv was a potential victim until Supreme told him otherwise. Banks was in prison during Murder Inc.’s entire rise to fame; they were fully established by the time he got out. I keep picturing him getting out, expecting to go back to dealing drugs and beating people down with Supreme, but instead he finds out his friend has become an entertainment-business hanger-on, making straight-to-video movies and hanging out with rappers and singers. It reminds me of Avon Barksdale in season three of The Wire, coming home from prison to find out that Stringer Bell has turned his drug business into some half-assed real-estate venture and knowing that he’s never going to succeed at legitimate business when the stink of drugs is still all over him, when it’s all he knows. So why did Supreme try to make this movie? Was the allure of music-business glamor really all that powerful? Was it that important to him? He definitely fucked up the lives of some music-business people with his crazy schemes.

Maybe we’ll get a verdict tomorrow. I hope we get a verdict tomorrow.

Voice feature:
Tom Breihan on the Murder Inc. trial