The lawyer started with "Good afternoon, Mr. Calabrese," but things didn't stay cordial for long.
Nicholas Calabrese, who had already acknowledged in testimony Thursday that he was "a rat" for testifying against his brother and other mob figures, was quickly cast by the defense as a mass murderer, racketeer, arsonist and liar.Attorney Joseph Lopez, who is representing Calabrese's brother, seemed intent on provoking Nicholas Calabrese during cross-examination, even suggesting he could have avoided becoming an Outfit killer or mob traitor by hanging himself.
Calabrese, the government's star witness in the landmark Family Secrets trial in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, said he took part in 14 murders for the Chicago syndicate out of fear that he would have faced death himself if he refused.
"I was loyal because I was afraid," said Calabrese, barely raising his voice. "I was a chicken and a coward because I didn't walk away from it."
It was also his fear that he could be executed for murder that led him to turn stool pigeon for the federal government, he said.
"That's why you're sitting [on the witness stand] rather than sitting over at that table next to your brother," said Lopez, looking toward his client, Frank Calabrese Sr. The flashy lawyer, his normally colorful clothing toned down to an all-black suit, shirt and tie, paced around in front of Calabrese.
Frank Calabrese Sr. sat a few yards away, his eyes and head sometimes bouncing back and forth between his attorney and his brother like he was courtside at a tennis match.
During his four days of testimony this week, Nicholas Calabrese, 64, has described how he had gradually been drawn into Outfit life, collecting high-interest "juice" loans and keeping gambling books for his brother before graduating to an accomplice and then a triggerman in mob hits.
Calabrese portrayed himself as a reluctant participant, too scared to say no to his ruthless older sibling.
Lopez asked Nicholas Calabrese if his brother had ever called him a coward.
"There's not many names he didn't call me," Calabrese said.
On Tuesday, Calabrese testified that he wet his pants while he, along with his brother, buried his first murder victim, a fact that Lopez couldn't resist in his questioning.
Reminding Calabrese of the time in early 2000 when he learned that the FBI had matched DNA to him from a bloody glove left at one murder scene, Lopez asked, "When you learned that, you really wet your pants, didn't you?"Calabrese admitted he was concerned. Lopez pressed him, asking if he knew he couldn't beat DNA evidence. "That's correct," said Nicholas Calabrese, staying mostly unruffled.
"You didn't want to get fried either, is that correct?" Lopez asked, referring to the death penalty.
"That's correct," Calabrese said.
The longtime mob insider acknowledged agonizing over his decision to assist the government. He said he waited until his daughter finished high school to avoid bringing embarrassment to his family. Calabrese said he contacted the FBI in 2002, offered to cooperate and rid himself of "a load" he had been carrying. He was then in prison, finishing up a sentence for helping his brother's violent juice-loan operation.
Lopez repeatedly challenged Calabrese's version of his Outfit work, asking him over and over why he didn't just leave Chicago and move to California or elsewhere to avoid the mob and his supposedly evil brother.
"That's why I'm a coward," Calabrese replied.
Lopez asked if Calabrese hadn't in fact reveled in the life of a mobster,