Can a one-time campus radical who was surveilled by the FBI be a fair judge for an ex-FBI agent on trial for murder?
Former FBI supervisory agent Roy Lindley DeVecchio — facing four murder counts for allegedly helping his Mafia informant — is betting his life on it.
DeVecchio, 67, got the fall jurisprudence season off to a bang this morning by announcing that he wants Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Gustin Reichbach — rather than a jury of his peers — to decide if he’s guilty as charged of helping his top mob informant murder four rivals.
“I want the case heard in front of an impartial individual who will assess the facts as presented,” said DeVecchio.
Reichbach, who was first elected to the bench in 1991, warned DeVecchio he was taking a big chance, not least of which is that Reichbach might have no love for the FBI because it once targeted him for surveillance as a dangerous radical.
The FeeBees started watching Reichbach as a law student at Columbia University in the late 1960s when the campus was aboil with anti-war activities. In court, Reichbach told DeVecchio and his lawyers, Douglas Grover and Mark Bederow, that twenty years ago he had used the federal Freedom of Information Law to obtain a portion of his FBI file. What he got revealed that the feds had singled him out as a major troublemaker.
“One document stands out in memory,” said Reichbach, as “flattering and personally satisfying.” That April, 1969 memo declared Reichbach “one of the more dangerous persons in SDS.” At the time, the Students for a Democratic Society was a leading anti-war group. The memo-writer described the judge-to-be as “a powerful speaker with strong charismatic appeal”
Reichbach told DeVecchio that, despite the surveillance, he has “no personal animus” and that he was “obliged to be fair and impartial.” But he said he wanted to put his past encounter with the bureau on the record so that DeVecchio knew about it upfront. If Reichbach finds the agent guilty, he warned DeVecchio, the defendant won’t be able to claim bias against the FBI as grounds for appeal.
DeVecchio whispered for 15 seconds with his attorneys and then told the judge that was fine with him. According to Juan Gonzalez, the Daily News columnist who helped lead a 1968 campus revolt at Columbia, Reichbach was one of many firebrands at the school. “Gussie was a good speaker,” he said.
Brooklyn assistant district attorney Michael Vecchione did not object to the DeVecchio’s decision to seek a bench trial in the case. Reichbach set October 15 for opening arguments in the case. Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes has charged DeVecchio with funneling information to deceased Columbo crime family captain Greg Scarpa Sr. that Scarpa then used to target those he deemed a threat.