In the mob, he said, capable and qualified are words used to describe a man who has committed a murder. Natale has admitted his own involvement in eight gangland killings and four attempts.
Participating in a murder, he added, is "the primary ingredient to being a member of a La Cosa Nostra family." It is, he said, "the most important thing you must do."
A person who has been initiated into a crime family, he said, has been "made," has "gotten his button," has been "straightened out."
Natale said he was made by Merlino at a ceremony in the former Hilton Hotel near Veterans Stadium. The ceremony, he said, took place shortly after he was released from prison in 1994.
"They had rented a suite of rooms in the hotel," he said.
The ceremony involves a gun and a knife that are placed on the table in front of the initiate, Natale said. The proposed member has to swear to use that gun and knife for "the family."
"We come first, La Cosa Nostra," he said. "Before your mother and father, your wife and children. . . . You keep omerta. You mustn't become a witness like I am here."
Natale paused and then shook his head slightly and smiled.
"It's a funny thing," he said. "They burn a holy card in your hand and you say, 'May I burn in hell if I betray the family.' But we kill all these people and nobody thinks about burning in hell. . . . I didn't realize it for 40 years."
Natale, during his four days on the witness stand in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, has repeatedly told the jury that he had embraced the code of La Cosa Nostra for decades before his formal initiation. He believed in it, he said, "in my heart and in my soul."
It was, he said, a time when he was on "the dark side."
Natale, 69, began cooperating with federal authorities in August 1999, shortly after he was indicted on drug-trafficking charges. With two earlier convictions for drug dealing and one for arson, he was facing a potential life sentence when he agreed to become a government witness.
He is the first sitting American Mafia boss ever to agree to cooperate.
Federal prosecutors hope to use his testimony and that of several other mob informants to support a 36-count racketeering indictment in which Merlino - Natale's former ally and reputed mob underboss - and his codefendants are charged with murder, attempted murder, extortion, gambling, and dealing in stolen property. Merlino also faces a drug-trafficking charge.
Since Natale took the stand Friday, Gross, the lead prosecutor, has methodically built a case establishing the relationship between the former mob boss and the defendants. Gross has bolstered Natale's testimony with surveillance photos and videotapes of meetings and audiotapes of conversations.
The photos and tapes come from a seven-year FBI investigation and include conversations from bugs planted on Natale's phone at his home in Pennsauken, and at the Garden State Race Track, where he frequently met with mob associates.
The photos entered as evidence yesterday included a series of shots taken at the Greenhouse, a popular restaurant in Margate, N.J., in the summer of 1995, when Natale said he and several of the defendants met with an associate of "the Russian mob" to discuss possible business deals.
Another photo, taken at the wedding reception of Natale's granddaughter that year, is a group shot in which Natale is pictured with five people, including defendants George Borgesi, Steven Mazzone, Martin Angelina and Frank Gambino.
Most of the phone conversations played for the jury yesterday involved discussions between Mazzone and Natale.
And while many appeared to establish the links and relationships that the prosecution hopes to present to the jury, one of the final conversations played at the end of yesterday's session had the defense and family members and friends of the defendants who have crowded the courtroom each day smiling and nodding.
On the tape, recorded in January 1996, Mazzone and Natale are discussing two mobsters who have become government informants.
"It's a shame," Natale says. "You know, if you commit a crime and you get caught, you should go to jail. . . . But now these guys turn and become liars and try to give their [jail] time to somebody else."
Defense attorneys said the same thing about Natale in their opening statements to the jury.
When he was questioned by Gross about those comments yesterday, Natale said that was how he felt at the time.
"That's the way I felt, 100 percent," he said.
But that, he told the jury repeatedly, was when he was on "the dark side."
George Anastasia's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.