BOSTON (Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Wednesday weighed whether to overturn the conviction of an octogenarian former New England mob boss sentenced to life for the 1993 murder of a nightclub owner whose remains were discovered in Rhode Island almost four years ago.
Attorneys for Francis “Cadillac Frank” Salemme, 87, and an associate told a three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston that jurors were wrongly instructed on the law before finding them guilty in 2018 in Steven DiSarro’s killing.
Prosecutors said Salemme, who headed the New England family of La Cosa Nostra in the 1990s, and Paul Weadick, 65, committed the murder because they believed he would speak with federal investigators. They were convicted of murdering a witness.
Lawrence Gerzog, Salemme’s attorney, argued jurors were wrongly told they only had to find Salemme’s motive was to prevent a “possible” communication with a federal officer and not that such a communication was reasonably likely to occur.
“It prejudiced Mr. Salemme’s right to a fair trial,” he said.
But while the panel questioned whether the issue could have affected Weadick’s conviction, U.S. Circuit Judge David Barron asked whether any jury instruction error mattered for Salemme given the evidence showing he committed the killing.
“What evidence is there that would suggest the motive was other than overwhelmingly to silence him from speaking with a federal official?” he said.
Prosecutors said Salemme had a secret interest in a music venue called The Channel that DiSarro purchased.
Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, who is serving a life sentence for 10 murders, testified Salemme became concerned DiSarro was speaking to authorities.
Flemmi said that on May 10, 1993, he went to Salemme’s home and saw Salemme’s now-deceased son, Frank Jr., strangling DiSarro as Weadick held his legs and the elder Salemme watched.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Alistair Bell)