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THE KINSHIP OF KILLERS

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DeStefano served as his own attorney in the case. Without a lawyer to control him, DeStefano was outrageously funny.

He waved thousand dollar bills in the air. He complained over and over again that he was dying of five terminal illnesses.

"Your honor," he moaned, "I'm a family man. I don't want to spend the rest of my life in jail. I'm a grandfather. I have all the money I want. All I want to do is spend time at home with my family."

It was heartwarming. Sam DeStefano, the friendly grandfather, who made his money in the bail-bonding business, now wanted to live peacefully at home wearing the same pink slippers he wore to prance around the courtroom in this case.

DeStefano knew enough about prisons. He had already served time for bank robbery, black marketing, rape and perjury.

One day he took the Fifth Amendment 337 times.
This was a man who had reasons to take the Fifth. It had become common knowledge that he was a cold killer who had once tortured one of his own loan collectors to death in the cellar of his home.

DeStefano, with the help of an accomplice, hanged Action Jackson, a 300-pound black man, from a meat hook in the basement with his hands tied behind him.

DeStefano proceeded to beat him with a baseball bat and then put a blowtorch to his face and to his testicles. When DeStefano was finished, they took the body out and put it in the trunk of a car and abandoned it on a side street.

I remember talking to DeStefano during a recess that day in federal court. He loved talking to reporters because he really seemed to like having his name in the newspaper.

At 63, DeStefano was short and overweight. His hair was thinning. He didn't actually look dangerous. He talked about the confrontation in the elevator that led to his being charged with threatening a witness.

"Look at me," he said. "Is anybody afraid of me? But when I walked into that elevator and saw this guy that day, he was so scared the blood rushed to his brain and his eyes popped out of their sockets."

DeStefano went on about the man he was accused of threatening.
"I never knew this creep and besides when I was in the joint, he was using my name and doing things on the outside. He was a snake around my family. He made the mistake of thinking I was going to die in prison.

"He never thought Sam DeStefano was coming back out. But I'm out. And I pay my debts."

One thing DeStefano did that day was unforgettable.
Halfway through the afternoon session he got out of his chair at the defense table and walked to a wastebasket.

He turned his back to the judge and looked out over the crowded courtroom. Now DeStefano's comic mask was gone. There was a look of contempt in his eyes.

Then he bent his head down and spat into the wastebasket. He did it four times in succession. It is the only time I have ever seen such a thing done in a courtroom.

There is a difference between men like Sam DeStefano and Vito Corleone, the Godfather.

Vito Corleone died of a heart attack in his backyard while romping with his grandchild. Sam DeStefano died from an assassin's bullet fired from point-blank range.

Corleone sleeps with the angels. DeStefano, as the mob says, sleeps with the fishes.

What The Godfather fails to tell us throughout the three films is that mobsters are in the business of killing people who don't get out their way.

They believe they are in a free-enterprise business. But their way of beating the competition is not to outwork them, but merely to kill them.

Dennis DeConcini has always insisted that his family knew Joe Bonanno only as a "retired cheesemaker" from Wisconsin.

The most remarkable thing about the three Godfather films is that we continually find ourselves rooting for the Mafia every time rather than the authorities.

We walk away from the movie with a sneaking sense of admiration for the Corleones and for all hoodlums as well.

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Tom Fitzpatrick