The Impossible Victory

The feds spent years building their case against drug kingpins Willy Falc centsn and Sal Maglutaa. Life in prison was assured. Too bad the jury didn't see it that way.

"It's my writing," Galeano replied, his earlier self-assurance having disappeared.

"It is your writing that came from your hand and your pen, onto a piece of paper, sent to your friend. Correct?"

In another letter, Galeano wrote, "The truth of the matter is, you have to dance to the gringo beat."

When it came time for closing arguments, Black, Weinberg, and Krieger spoke for nearly five hours. They concentrated on arguing that the government's witnesses were untrustworthy, and if the jurors couldn't trust the witnesses, then they had to find Falc centsn and Magluta not guilty.

"There is something wrong with what happened in this case," Black told the jury. "There is something wrong with the way this whole investigation was handled. There is something wrong about the way these witnesses were treated. There is something wrong about the arrogance of power that makes what happens in this courtroom so frightening that somebody has to have the courage to say it's time to stop it."

Black quoted Edmund Burke ("The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing") and invoked the names of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. He even tried to show the jury the famous photograph from Tiananmen Square -- blown up to poster size -- of a lone man bravely facing down a column of army tanks, but Judge Moreno stopped him. "I know I am not overstating the case when I tell you how important this is, not just for Willy Falc centsn and Sal Magluta, but it is important for all of us, because it is our constitution, it is our system of justice, it is our democracy that we want to protect," exhorted Black, who then motioned to Falc centsn and Magluta. "It is not just them, but it is our country, our Constitution that is at stake."

He told the jury that Falc centsn and Magluta retired from the drug business in 1980 and that the statute of limitations protected them from any crimes they may have committed back then. "They had made enough money," he said. "They didn't have to continue on."

Black ended where he had begun, with the government's informants. "It is easy to get up here and to criticize these people who testified," he said. "They should be criticized to some extent, but you have to sort of sympathize with them. Can you imagine what it must be like being put into a jail cell and looking at ten, twenty years, thirty years, the rest of your life in that cell? Can you imagine how people like that feel? You can see why people become desperate. You can see why they do these kinds of things.

"But that is no excuse for putting this kind of testimony on in a courtroom," Black added, turning his criticism to the prosecutors seated a few feet away. "This is no excuse. That is just arrogance. That is just the end justifies the means, and that is what this case is all about -- the end. Convicting these two men is worth anything. It is worth cutting any corner. Is there anything more dangerous than that?"

Weinberg rose to speak next, and he recalled for the jury Nestor Galeano's testimony two months earlier. The infamous letters. Weinberg had enlarged portions of them and now used them as props. He told the jury that Galeano and the other informants had to testify in such a way as to please prosecutor Christopher Clark. Otherwise Clark would refuse to file the necessary motions that would reduce their long prison terms.

"You can ask yourself whether or not there is something wrong when, in a democracy, in this case, one man, a young prosecutor in his thirties, Chris Clark, has power over the life and death of so many human beings," Weinberg said. "It may offend you that, in a democracy, one young man not elected has so much power and that power promotes perjury."

In his closing remarks, Krieger also attacked the prosecution for wasting time with "meaningless law enforcement and lay witnesses" whose testimony had little or nothing to do with drug trafficking but instead concentrated on Falc centsn's and Magluta's wealth. "Like we needed a parade of real estate brokers," Krieger said sarcastically, "or we needed two days with Horvath the jeweler, for example."

Like Black and Weinberg before him, Krieger disparaged the government's 27 informant witnesses. "Each one carries with him the mark of the perjurer, of the liar, of the con man, of the deceiver, of the dissembler," he bellowed. "It is my respectful submission to you that no more than a leopard can change its spots can some of the beauties we saw up here tell the truth."

Prosecutor Clark, in his final remarks, implored jurors to look at the evidence and not allow themselves to be misled by the defense's attack on the witnesses' character. "So what type of people is it that you would expect to testify in a case such as this?" he asked. "Do you expect your grade school teacher or your parish priest or your minister to come into court and say, 'Yes, indeed, I dealt drugs with Willy Falc centsn and Sal Magluta'? No. Of course not.

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