January 30th, 2005 07:35 AM
Interesting case in Florida
Attorney says West Boca deli owner killed man in self-defense
Defendant was threatened, lawyer tells jurors
By Peter Franceschina
Posted January 27 2005
Deli owner Ralph Liotta endured weeks of threats from a business associate who bragged about his ties to late New York mob boss John Gotti before shooting the associate during a confrontation, Liotta's defense attorney told jurors Wednesday.
John Gurino, 48, the man who was shot dead in the doorway of the deli west of Boca Raton in October 2003, told anyone who would listen that he got away with a murder in 1984 and led the 1992 riots outside the Brooklyn courthouse when Gotti was sentenced to life in prison, defense attorney David Bogenschutz said in his opening statement.
Liotta, 48, is charged with manslaughter with a firearm, which is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Bogenschutz told jurors Liotta acted in self-defense and pulled a gun on Gurino only after he thought Gurino was reaching for his own gun. That came after Gurino slapped Liotta and told Liotta he was going to kill him, Bogenschutz said.
"He knew Mr. Gurino was a dangerous man," Bogenschutz said.
Gurino's family told investigators that Gurino invested about $10,000 in the deli and had given Liotta $50,000 toward the purchase of a house that turned out not to be in Liotta's name, according to court records.
When Gurino got mad, he had a "disturbing" habit, Bogenschutz said.
"He would bite the bottom of his lip, spitting the words out, backing up, reaching into his pocket," he said.
The threats kept coming, and Liotta put his wife and child on a plane to Atlanta, Bogenschutz said.
Gurino told Liotta, "I'm going to get you. You're dead. I'm going to bring some [guys] around and they are going to break you in front of your wife and children," Bogenschutz said.
On the morning of the shooting, Gurino was hanging around the Corner Deli in the Del Mar Shopping Village waiting for Liotta to show up, Bogenschutz said. Liotta apparently got into the deli unnoticed, but then Gurino began banging on the door to be let in, Bogenschutz said.
At that point, Liotta noticed a gun sticking out of Gurino's waistband, he said, and then Gurino went out to his car. Eventually, Liotta, Gurino and three other men, including another partner in the deli, sat down to talk things out.
Gurino's anger was rekindled and he confronted Liotta and told him he was going to kill him, then slapped him, Bogenschutz said. Gurino backed up and reached for his pants, Bogenschutz said, and Liotta thought he was going for a gun. Liotta, who had a concealed weapons permit, reached for his gun and kept firing at Gurino until he fell.
Peter Franceschina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-832-2894.
January 30th, 2005 07:49 AM
Florida CCW holder is convicted
Deli Owner Convicted In Shooting Death
By John Cot?Sun-Sentinel
January 29, 2005
Palm Beach County jurors Friday convicted deli owner Ralph Liotta of manslaughter for shooting a man who loaned him thousands of dollars and bragged of ties to late New York mob boss John Gotti.
Jurors deliberated about 41/2 hours before convicting Liotta in the death of John Gurino, 48, who was shot four times in the doorway of Liotta's deli west of Boca Raton in October 2003.
Liotta, 48, faces up to 30 years in prison. He showed little emotion as the verdict was read or when he was taken into custody minutes later.
"He was ready for it," defense attorney David Bogenschutz said outside the courtroom. "I don't think he was expecting it. I don't think anybody was."
A woman who sat with members of Liotta's family during parts of the trial clasped her hand to her mouth and began to cry when told of the verdict as she stood outside the courtroom holding a young boy.
She and other Liotta supporters declined to comment. Gurino's brothers, nephews and other supporters did not openly react in court and quickly left after the verdict was announced.
Assistant State Attorney Bunnie Lenhardt said she had asked Gurino's family to exit quickly to avoid any conflict.
Bogenschutz, who had called Gurino a "self-anointed, want-to-be wise guy," had argued the killing came in self defense following weeks of harassment in which Gurino allegedly threatened to cut Liotta's throat and have him raped in front of his family in a dispute over money.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Gurino is dead because of his own actions," Bogenschutz told jurors in his closing statement. "He put the wheels in motion."
Liotta had testified that he opened fire because he thought Gurino was going to shoot him. Gurino had just slapped Liotta, was moving his hand in his pocket and saying, "I'm going to f---- kill you," Liotta testified. Police found a knife in Gurino's pocket after he was killed.
Gurino was turning to leave when he was gunned down, Lenhardt argued.
"This was the right verdict for these facts," she said after leaving the courtroom.
Prosecutors contend Liotta shot out of rage or a desire to wipe out his debt.
Liotta estimated he owed Gurino about $26,000 in off-the-book loans and other debts at the time. Gurino's family told investigators the debt was $60,000. The defense maintained Gurino was using strong-arm tactics in a bid to gain control of Liotta's deli and home.
Bogenschutz said he would appeal the conviction, saying there was insufficient evidence to counter the self-defense argument.
Prosecutors will likely seek the maximum sentence on the manslaughter charge, Lenhardt said.
The defense plans to ask for a lighter sentence, citing factors including that the killing was an unplanned, isolated incident in which the victim was an aggressor or participant, Bogenschutz said. He called it "unlikely" Liotta would receive a maximum sentence.
"This is a simple man who got himself in a horrible situation," Bogenschutz said.
Attorneys on both sides said it would be at least 30 days until sentencing.
Copyright © 2005, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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