Fourth hung jury for godfather's son in mafia trial

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A US judge declared a mistrial at the racketeering trial of John "Junior" Gotti after a New York jury failed to reach a verdict against the son of the notorious Gambino crime family mob boss - the case's fourth hung jury in five years.

The anonymous jurors deliberated for 11 days before notifying the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked over racketeering conspiracy and murder charges.

Prosecutors accused Gotti of ordering gangland hits to settle scores and of secretly pocketing drug money despite insisting he'd gone straight.

US District Judge Kevin P. Castel freed Gotti - behind bars for more than a year - on two million US dollars bond while the government decides whether to seek a fifth trial.

About three hours later, a smiling Gotti walked out of Manhattan federal court and told a crush of reporters that he was looking forward to spending time with his children. The family planned to celebrate the outcome with a steak dinner.

"It was difficult for me," he said. "I can only imagine what it was like for them."

He also thanked the jury for keeping an open mind despite mob folklore - "a hard thing to do".

Three hours earlier, the jury had sent US District Judge Kevin P. Castel a note that read: "Judge Castel, we cannot reach a unanimous decision on any count."

Castel notified the jury that he was declaring a mistrial, and applause erupted in the courtroom among Gotti supporters.

Once the jury left the courtroom, Gotti hugged his attorney. Victoria Gotti, Gotti's sister, tearfully said outside court: "We're ravaged. We're beaten down, but we're not broken."

Asked about a possibility of another trial, she said: "Just let it go. We're no organised crime family. We're a family. That's all we are."

Afterward, some jurors said they were evenly split throughout their deliberations on all counts. But they were unanimous on one point: The government's star cooperator, admitted mob enforcer and former Gotti friend John Alite, bombed on the witness stand.

"The whole jury agreed he was the least credible," said one juror who refused to give his name.

The jurors identities were withheld by the court for their protection, a common practice in mob cases.

Gotti's assessment of Alite: "He meant nothing to me. He was an animal then. He's animal now."

Three previous trials in the same Manhattan courthouse - alleging the 45-year-old Gotti orchestrated a kidnapping and attempted murder plot against Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa - ended in hung juries in 2005 and 2006.

"We are evaluating how to proceed and, in the near future, will inform the Court and the defence of our decision," US Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

Prosecutors in the latest case renewed the Sliwa accusation, but also raised the stakes by alleging that Gotti left behind a trail of bodies while following in the footsteps of the late John "Dapper Don" Gotti.

Claims by the Don's eldest son that he quit the Mafia in 1999 were preposterous, they said.

"It makes no sense," assistant US Attorney James Trezevant said in closing arguments. "He never, never quit that life."

In his closing argument, Gotti's lawyer recounted how Gotti, while visiting his imprisoned-for-life father, confided that he didn't have the stomach for La Cosa Nostra.

"It's not working for me, and it's not working for my kids," attorney Charles Carnesi quoted his client as saying.

Mr Carnesi also attacked the prosecution's turncoat witnesses. He argued they were willing to tell lies about Gotti to reduce their own prison sentences.

Alite testified about the younger Gotti's rise through the family ranks - and about his violent temper. He claimed Gotti once shot a man for mocking the size of his handgun.

"Is this big enough?" Alite quoted Gotti as saying as he grabbed a nearby rifle and shot the man in the hip.

John Gotti senior had a knack for evading convictions on a variety of mob indictments brought against him, earning him his other nickname, Teflon Don. He finally was convicted in 1992 of murder and racketeering and died in prison.