Author Next to Take Stand in Ex-FBI Agent‚Äôs Murder Inquiry
By Charles Sweeney
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
JAY STREET ‚ÄĒ At the intersection of law and journalism, a Brooklyn judge found himself weighing serious First Amendment issues in his Brooklyn courtroom on Wednesday.
Defense lawyers for a retired FBI agent accused of murder have subpoenaed a former prosecutor, along with an award-winning investigative journalist and author, all in an effort to get the charges against their client dismissed.
The former prosecutor whose investigation of former FBI agent R. Lindley DeVecchio led to an indictment charging the one-time G-man with four counts of murder took the stand on Wednesday. The setting was a hearing on a whether the charges against DeVecchio were based on immunized testimony ‚ÄĒ protected information ‚ÄĒ which defense attorneys charge was off limits to prosecutors.
Based on a little-known legal principle which states that a prosecution cannot be brought if it is based on ‚Äúimmunized‚ÄĚ testimony, attorneys for DeVecchio are trying to show that former prosecutor Noel Downey built his case on such information.
To Take Stand
DeVecchio‚Äôs defense attorney, Mark Bederow, also subpoenaed award-winning journalist and author Peter Lance ‚ÄĒ whose book ‚ÄúCover Up‚ÄĚ provided the ‚Äúspringboard‚ÄĚ for the investigation into the former G-man‚Äôs relationship with his mob-linked informant, according to public statements Downey made at a press conference in the spring of 2006.
In arguments before state Supreme Court Justice Gustin Reichbach prior to Downey taking the stand, Bederow alleged that Lance‚Äôs book, ‚ÄúCover Up: What the Government is Still Hiding about the War on Terror,‚ÄĚ was also based on so-called ‚Äúimmunized testimony.‚ÄĚ
Bederow charged that Lance made use of ‚Äúimmunized‚ÄĚ testimony DeVecchio gave at a court appearance, as well as an ‚Äúimmunized‚ÄĚ statement the now-retired agent made during an internal FBI probe.
In the mid-1990s, the feds got wind of allegations that DeVecchio‚Äôs relationship with Colombo crime family capo Gregory ‚ÄúThe Grim Reaper‚ÄĚ Scarpa Sr. ‚ÄĒ an FBI informant for 15 years ‚ÄĒ was tainted.
As a result of those internal rumblings, an investigation was undertaken which ultimately cleared DeVecchio of any wrongdoing ‚ÄĒ a whitewash, according to Lance‚Äôs book, a conclusion he explains within the pages of his tome.
As the morning court session drew to a close, Reichbach ruled that Lance would have to take the stand and answer limited questions. On his way out of court in the company of his attorney, Slade Metcalfe, Lance declined to comment until after his session on the stand today.
Lance had been reluctant to comment on the subpoena, except for a letter he wrote to Reichbach asking to be excused from taking the stand to protect his sources, many of whom are high-ranking intelligence officials and law enforcement personnel. His attorneys have also waged a vigorous battle to keep their client off the stand, citing New York state‚Äôs shield law, which protects journalists from divulging their sources.
But the subject matter of interest to Bederow and Douglas Grover, (DeVecchio‚Äôs other defense attorney), had more to do with Lance‚Äôs conversations with prosecutors at the genesis of the investigation.
Did DA Use Book Based on Immunized Information?
Bederow and Grover believe that Lance based sections of his book on immunized testimony given by DeVecchio, and that he provided this information to prosecutors at a meeting at the District Attorney‚Äôs Jay Street headquarters in December 2005.
According to yesterday‚Äôs testimony by former prosecutor Downey, who led the DeVecchio investigation, he met with Lance at the urging of his supervisor.
‚ÄúMichael Vecchione [head of the Brooklyn District Attorney‚Äôs Racket‚Äôs Division] informed me that there was an investigative reporter, Peter Lance, who said that he had information about the DeVecchio case and asked me to meet with him,‚ÄĚ Downey told the court on Wednesday.
‚ÄúHe told us about the two books he had written, the main themes of his books,‚ÄĚ Downey said, adding that there was no discussion of any immunized testimony by Lance or Downey at the meeting.
‚ÄúIt [the meeting] didn‚Äôt have any bearing‚ÄĚ on the investigation, Downey said.
After admitting to an interest in the portion of ‚ÄúCover Up‚ÄĚ in which Lance traces the beginnings of the FBI‚Äôs relationship with Scarpa, the Colombo capo who allegedly used information provided by DeVecchio to rub out several enemies, Downey recalled another section of interest.
‚ÄúThere was a portion of ‚ÄėCover Up‚Äô with photographs, in a middle section of the book, which identified individuals we would be interested in speaking with,‚ÄĚ Downey said. ‚ÄúI told him [Lance] that I would be interested in contacting some of the persons.‚ÄĚ
Recalling the remark he made about the book at a press conference announcing DeVecchio‚Äôs indictment, Downey said, ‚ÄúI think I said something like, ‚ÄėFirst thing you have to do in a murder investigation is to learn who‚Äôs who, and Peter Lance‚Äôs book was a springboard that helped us do that.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
Bederow and Grover failed to elicit testimony from Downey during their cross-examination that the indictment against their client came from immunized testimony. Barring any such finding it is likely the charges against DeVecchio will stand.
Lance is expected to take the stand today, after which Reichbach will confer with attorneys from both sides ‚ÄĒ including Brooklyn Assistant District Attorneys Joe Alexis, Monique Ferrell and Kevin Richardson ‚ÄĒ about the possibility of other witnesses.
The indictment against the one-time FBI agent alleges he provided information to Scarpa Sr., who then allegedly used it to murder rivals in the bloody war for control of the family in the late 1980s and mid-1990s.
¬© Brooklyn Daily Eagle 2007
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