Since Gotti, there have been other trials, like the coming defense of Phil Spector in Los Angeles, but nothing to match the lightning-in-a-bottle feel of those Gotti trials. “He’s a sui generis person,” Cutler says, unconsciously slipping into the present tense in talking about his old friend. “But it was quite a ride representing him. And it was nice.” Cutler’s personal life, meanwhile, has been a mess. He’s chalked up two busted marriages and is only now starting to regularly visit the 7-year-old son, Michael, he had with an ex-girlfriend. “He’s the sweetest, brightest boy,” he says. “Everything’s been my fault. In the personal-life department, I’m an abject failure!” Cutler shouts, leaning down an inch from my tape recorder.
Hayes has also tried criminal cases all over town (he was Tom Wolfe’s Virgil in his research in the Bronx D.A.’s office for Bonfire), but he’s mainly been a go-to guy for the rich and notable. “First, most high-profile criminal trials you lose, right?” he says. “Second, the money’s terrible. Third, that’s not the role I wanted in society.” In the eighties, Hayes married a model and appeared to win the legal lottery when his buddy Fred Hughes, executor of the Andy Warhol estate, put Hayes in charge of the estate’s legal workings. But when Hayes billed the estate for a jaw-dropping $10 million, Hughes resisted and Hayes took him to court. Hayes seemed to win the first round but lost on appeal, receiving only about half, and in 1996, he was forced to file for Chapter 11. Esquire snarked that his fifteen minutes were up. Hayes spent the next five years climbing out of millions in debt, working twelve-hour days on tiny cases in Bronx Family Court. Like Cutler, he mists over when recalling his rougher moments. “I used to be so dog-tired at night, I used to go sleep on the floor of my son’s room because he would almost be asleep,” he remembers. “Sometimes he’d get out of bed and come over and hug me on the floor.”
In the end, Hayes held on to the townhouse on East 81st Street and the house on the water in Bellport. He’s back to representing the likes of Richard Johnson and Anna Wintour, and his old law-school friendship with George Pataki helped make him something of a political power broker. Hayes has parlayed his friendship to successfully represent the interests of the families of police officers who died on 9/11 and to push Daniel Libeskind as the architect best suited to fashion a master plan for lower Manhattan. (“I’m not a fan of the governor’s,” Cutler says, his lip curling slightly. “But Eddie likes him, so he must have some redeeming value.”) And Hayes takes a kind of dark comfort in the notion that his enemies got their comeuppance. “I think Fred Hughes died a horrible death because he betrayed me and God punished him for that,” Hayes says coolly. “It’s the Catholic in me; I tell you the truth. You know, in my background, if God doesn’t punish you, I will.”
For Cutler, representing Eppolito seems a little like working for a sort of ersatz John Gotti—a cheap photocopy of a brilliant original. This case, Cutler says, brings him back to many of the main themes of his career. “It’s my whole life,” Cutler says. “It’s Brooklyn, it’s policemen, it’s reputed gangsters, it’s government witnesses, it’s federal prosecutors, it’s Brooklyn D.A. people, it’s detectives, it’s the FBI, it’s the DEA. Everything!” Cutler comes to court as a not-so-humble soldier in the battle of good versus evil; Gotti was, in his view, an innocent plumbing-supply salesman railroaded by an overzealous government. Hayes is more Machiavellian, a master of the game. “Of the two of us, I’m much less sincere, much more ambitious,” Hayes says. “I am not a knight in shining armor. I’m the guy you call up when you have a problem—but there’s gotta be something in it for Eddie, right? If you don’t have anything, I hope you can bake.”
Even so, Hayes goes back and forth on the wisdom of handling this case. “Why am I taking Caracappa? I don’t know,” he says. “You know, this poor dopey bastard, he’s in solitary confinement, he’s fucking freezing. And that’s the kind of guy I grew up with. But sometimes I think I’m crazy. I mean, I love Bruce. I love going to court. I think I know what I’m doing.”
It was a chance phone call that got the cold case heated up again. Tommy Dades, slim and baby-faced with hooded puppy-dog eyes and a disarming dese-and-dose manner, was working in the Investigative Squad of the NYPD’s Intelligence Division in September 2003, closing out cases before his imminent retirement, when a tipster casually mentioned something about Eppolito and Caracappa. After all this time, this small piece of information, putting the two cops near Jimmy Hydell at the same moment in 1986 that he disappeared, seemed to be precisely what was needed to reopen the case. “The first domino fell when I got the phone call,” says Dades. “It put them at the right place at the right time and led me to other people.”