NEW YORK -- Raising their voices and pounding their fists, using props and a touch of hyperbole, the high-profile lawyers for a pair of former NYPD detectives launched a vigorous defense yesterday against charges their clients kidnapped and killed on the orders of a mob underboss.
The courtroom theatrics went on during opening statements in US District Court in Brooklyn, where defendants Louis Eppolito and Steven Caracappa sat quietly as their attorneys answered allegations that the pair joined the payroll of the Luchese crime family before going on a two-cop crime rampage.
''The defendants went into business together," assistant US Attorney Mitra Hormozi said in her opening statement. ''Their business was crime. Even worse, the defendants committed many of these crimes while sworn to protect the very people they preyed upon."
She spoke before defense attorneys Bruce Cutler and Edward Hayes addressed the jury.
Cutler, best known for his bombastic defense of the late mob boss John Gotti, railed against government witnesses who had cut deals in return for their testimony against the two decorated detectives. Expected to testify are former Luchese family head ''Little Al" D'Arco and mobster ''Big Pete" Chiodo.
''They called each other tough guys, goodfellas, until the jail door shut," Cutler said of the government witnesses. ''Then they wet their pants and called mommy -- the government."
Eppolito, 57, and Caracappa, 64, are charged with racketeering, conspiracy, and other charges for allegedly joining the payroll of Luchese underboss Anthony ''Gaspipe" Casso. They were allegedly involved in eight killings while working for Casso, who paid the pair a reported $4,000 a month.
In return, they helped him avoid arrest, warned him of impending investigations, and committed killings for up to $65,000 a hit, Hormozi said.
She said the two detectives admired Casso, who confessed to 36 murders, ''for getting the job done."
Attorney Hayes, representing Caracappa, rubbed his client's shoulders like a cornerman at a fight while addressing the jury. He held up a set of keys, saying the government witnesses all held their own keys to escape the penalty for their crimes: testifying for the government.
Standing in a courtroom filled with reporters, the public, and the defendants' family, Hayes said his client welcomed the scrutiny. ''As far as Steven Caracappa is concerned, the more publicity the better," said Hayes, whose past clients included Robert De Niro and Lizzie Grubman. ''The government is trying to humiliate him. . . . Good! Bring it on."
The defendants both listened intently during opening statements. The heavyset Eppolito leaned back in his chair, while the thinner Caracappa -- known as ''The Stick" -- held a ballpoint pen.
Hormozi told the jury how the detectives arrested a mobster named Jimmy Hydell in 1986, but then turned him over to Casso for execution -- and a $30,000 payoff. That year, the pair allegedly also provided the underboss with information to locate Nicholas Guido, a mobster involved in a murder plot against Casso. The inaccurate tip led to an innocent man with the same name; he was killed in a hail of gunfire on Christmas Day 1986.
Caracappa, a NYPD officer for 23 years, helped establish the department's nerve center for Mafia murder probes before retiring in 1992. Eppolito grew up in a mob family: His father, grandfather, and an uncle were members of the Gambino family.
The contrast between his police work and his mob family life was detailed in his autobiography, ''Mafia Cop: The Story of An Honest Cop Whose Family Was the Mob."
''If Louie Eppolito had wanted to live that life, in the sewer, it was open to him," Cutler said. ''He didn't want it."