This has got to stop,” Suffolk County judge Robert W. Doyle was saying to Danny Pelosi’s lawyer, Gerald Shargel. Danny was making faces again at the witnesses—glaring, mouthing things—and the judge thought Danny was being “too animated,” as Shargel charmingly phrased it outside the courtroom.
Though Shargel’s client is restrained by cuffs and his greased-up jailhouse haircut is slightly off-kilter in the back, there is swagger in his step whenever he enters the courtroom. If his lawyers are up at the bench, Danny Pelosi twists his head over his shoulder, seeking friends, affirmation, human contact. He blows kisses to Jennifer Zolnowski, his 28-year-old fiancée with the soft-core measurements. Sometimes he puffs up his chest and winks—to some lecherous effect. Danny has banned his three children from the jail, and so this is their chance to see him, in a smart suit, cuffed trou, tasseled loafers, and what looks like a coat of self-tanner.
On the day Danny Pelosi would finally stand trial for the murder of investment banker Ted Ammon, jailhouse snitches were suddenly saying he’d confessed to the crime. Ammon had been bludgeoned three years earlier in his bed at his East Hampton mansion, and everyone knew that Danny, an electrician, had been sleeping with Generosa, the tycoon’s wife. Not long after, the pair were married. And not long after that, she died of breast cancer.
As the trial has zigged and zagged, it’s become clear that Danny Pelosi is an exceedingly hard man to defend. He is a drunkard, a braggart, a philanderer, a manipulative narcissist, a guy who after Ted Ammon’s death talked about how bagging his wife made him feel like he’d won the lottery. He’s a paranoid who is excited by all things cloak-and-dagger. He owned at least one stun gun. He liked to brag that he was connected to the Mafia.
“Obviously I know how to caution a client. But Danny would talk to a lamp shade.”
“Oh, please,” says Shargel. “He didn’t know anybody in the Mafia. That was just Danny being Danny.” Shargel is perhaps best known for winning mobster John Gotti an acquittal, and as Danny’s trial kicked off, police were digging up remains from what appeared to be a Gambino-family graveyard out in Queens.
The case against Danny is wholly circumstantial: No murder weapon was found, no incriminating DNA, no forensic evidence of any kind yoking Pelosi to this crime. Shargel’s biggest obstacle is probably his client’s mouth. “Obviously, I know how to caution a client,” Shargel was saying with some frustration, “but as I’ve said before, Danny Pelosi would talk to a lampshade.” A little omertà would have been welcome here: The tabloids have clashed cymbals over a series of crypto-confessions Pelosi apparently made before and after the crime. There was the contractor who heard Danny say he wanted to bash Ted’s brains in while he was sleeping. The girlfriend who heard him say he made Ted cry like a bitch and beg for his life. The babysitter who heard him say somebody needed to knock some sense into Ted.
And as the trial began, some of Pelosi’s fellow inmates claimed he’d not only banged on about killing Ammon but had revealed a list of others who needed some sense knocked into them—which the prosecution’s chief witness, Clayton Moultrie, a man who looks like Mr. T, had compiled in the margins of that venerable prison read, Muscle & Fitness magazine. (Not long after Moultrie agreed to help the prosecution, he was released—and was promptly re-arrested for robbing a convenience store with an ice pick.) “Riverhead’s county jail reminds me of Angola,” Gerry Shargel was saying. “It’s survival of the fittest out there.” Danny Pelosi is the only fish at Riverhead bigger than Raul Gonzalez, another informant and a reputed head of the Latin Kings.
“They ain’t got no goddamn case against me,” Danny muttered within earshot of everybody. “If they had a murder case, they wouldn’t use this bullshit.”
Shargel asked potential jurors to look Danny in the eye and say whether they could give him a fair trial. This was important: In the nineties, several jurors on an injury suit he’d filed indicated they were so rattled by his pouncing-hawk glare that the court offered to have them escorted to their cars.
As he plays to this panel, Shargel is out to make sure they don’t pity Ted too much. The jury must consider the notion that Ted Ammon had other enemies. And if that means Shargel has to tip Ted Ammon’s remains out of their reliquary, so be it.