Scarfo Defense Takes Its Turn At Murder Trial

Posted: May 04, 1988

Reputed mob boss Nicodemo "Little Nicky" Scarfo's attorneys yesterday began pecking at an avalanche of evidence showing that the 1984 shooting death of Salvatore Testa was an organized-crime slaying committed at Scarfo's behest.

Only one of the handful of defense witnesses who took the stand yesterday directly disputed the version of Testa's slaying told in graphic and colorful terms during the last four weeks by government informants Nicholas "Nicky Crow" Caramandi and Thomas DelGiorno.

Louis Palladino, 75, caretaker of Girard Park in South Philadelphia, testified yesterday that he saw Testa around 6 p.m. on Sept. 14, 1984. Testa's body was found in New Jersey four hours later, and the prosecution's contention is that Testa was killed around noon that day.

Other defense evidence seemed to cast doubt on peripheral details of Caramandi's and DelGiorno's testimony. So far, no direct denials or alibis for any of the nine defendants have been offered.

The defense team, headed by Robert F. Simone, apparently intends to rely - as it has in the past, with mixed results - on the strength of closing arguments. Just two witnesses are scheduled for today.

Last year, Simone used his closing argument to attack the credibility and character of DelGiorno and Caramandi in two federal trials. Scarfo was convicted of extortion in one and acquitted on drug charges in another.

The bulk of yesterday's testimony focused on two funerals - neither of them Testa's.

Both Caramandi and DelGiorno testified that they and the nine defendants plotted for nearly six months to kill Testa. During that time, they testified, there were innumerable plans to accomplish the slaying.

One of the stranger schemes was a decision to assassinate Testa while he was attending the wake of his best friend's aunt. That plan, according to the two informants, was abandoned at the wake because the police were watching the funeral home.

Caramandi testified that he was ready to shoot Testa as the two of them sat in a second-floor bar in the funeral home. He motioned his intentions to Salvatore "Chuckie" Merlino, seeking approval. Merlino shook his head, Caramandi said.

The defense has argued that such a shooting would have been unlikely

because there was a crowd of people in the room with them.

Yesterday, Simone called the owner of the funeral home, Nunzio Carto Jr., to the witness stand.

Carto recalled the aunt's funeral on June 18, 1984. And he remembered opening his personal recreation room - with bar - to those who were attending the wake.

Carto testified that his wife and son-in-law were in attendance in the recreation room throughout the wake. Between 50 and 100 people made use of the room, he said.

Carto's son-in-law, James L. Guersio, also testified. He, too, recalled the funeral and the opening of the recreation room. At any one time, he testified, there were about 40 people in the room. Testa, as well as several of the defendants, were "up and down" between the viewing room and the recreation room, he said.

The importance of attending a particular funeral was highlighted in testimony earlier this week, when Maria Testa Muzio, Salvatore Testa's sister, took the stand. She said none of the defendants attended her brother's funeral, though they had all been at the funerals of both of her parents.

Their absence, Muzio testified, was a slap in her face. Although she did not offer any opinions about who killed her brother, the implication was strong that the defendants had done it and therefore did not attend the funeral.

Simone sought to counter that testimony yesterday by asking Philadelphia police Capt. Francis Friel about attendance at the funeral of another organized crime figure, Frank Monte.

Monte was killed in 1982. A member of a rival faction of the local Mafia was later charged and convicted of Monte's killing.

"Mr. Scarfo was not charged, nor was there any evidence that he killed or ordered the killing of Frank Monte, was there?" Simone asked Friel.

When Friel said no, Simone then asked him whether Scarfo and the other defendants had attended Monte's wake.

"There was no evidence that they went to the wake," Friel testified.

After some cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Barbara L. Christie, Simone had the last word.

"So the fact that Mr. Scarfo didn't go to his (Monte's) funeral is no indication that he killed him?" Simone asked, then sat down without waiting for an answer.

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