NEW YORK (CBS/AP) "You're a Punk!"
Those were the choice words of an angry John "Junior" Gotti as he shouted in anger towards a former close friend who blamed him for a trail of organized crime violence while on the stand at Gotti's racketeering trial in New York.
The outburst came Thursday afternoon as the U.S. District Court in Manhattan broke for lunch, after the jury left the room and as the witness, John Alite, was walking out of the courtroom. After lunch, Judge Kevin P. Castel warned both men that they would be in contempt of court if there was another nasty encounter.
Alite testified that he was not involved in the strangling of a 25-year-old woman who was dumped in a pile of garbage hours after she became involved in a dispute with Gotti's uncle in 1985.
A prosecutor and a defense attorney disagreed on exactly what sparked the outburst.
Gotti's lawyer, Charles Carnesi, said the encounter began with Alite saying to Gotti: "Do you have something to say to me?" A court worker confirmed that account, the judge said.
The prosecutor said Gotti had actually incited Alite by first mouthing the words: "I'll kill you."
Once Alite challenged Gotti, the defendant stood and shouted: "Did I kill little girls? You're a punk. You're a dog. You're a dog. You always were a dog your whole life, you punk dog. You want to strangle little girls in a motel, you dog you."
Then Gotti said to the judge, "I'm sorry, your honor."
Castel responded, "It's more than that. You are not doing yourself any favors and you violated my direction."
After lunch and just before the jury was brought in for the afternoon session of court, Castel told lawyers that he had seen Gotti "inappropriately nodding his head at one point" during Alite's testimony.
When Castel warned Gotti that he was not helping himself with his actions, Gotti responded, "I understand. I apologize."
Alite has been testifying for the last week that Gotti had a hand in murders and violence as he played a major role in the Gambino crime family in the 1980s and 1990s.
Carnesi has argued that Gotti quit the family in 1999, when he pleaded guilty to federal charges and served five years in prison.
Prosecutors disagree that Gotti, the son of the late Gambino boss of the same name, has left his criminal past behind. Regardless, Gotti could be convicted of charges related to several killings if the jury believes the testimony of Alite and others.
Lawyers on both sides agreed that the jury was in the hallway when Alite and Gotti verbally sparred Thursday and would not have heard it.