After 15 years in prison, Pasquale Barone Jr. became a free man yesterday after a federal judge apologized to him, calling his trial for killing a man for the New England Mafia "fraudulent," because prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense.
US District Judge Mark L. Wolf said he was disappointed that the only way he could order Barone's release yesterday was to accept a plea agreement that had been worked out between prosecutors and defense lawyers as he was trying to decide whether to order a new trial for Barone.
Barone pleaded guilty yesterday to racketeering charges, admitting his role in two murders and a credit union robbery. In exchange, prosecutors agreed that Barone should be sentenced to the time he had already served on charges of racketeering and conspiracy to murder for the mob and be freed immediately.
"In this case, Barone is required to plead guilty to get out of prison . . . which in some circumstances might be viewed as extortionate," said Wolf, adding that he didn't think the government could have won a second trial.
"This was a hard decision for me," Barone, 42, of Boston's North End, told the judge after pleading guilty, saying it was in his best interest to accept the deal offered by the government. "I just want to put this behind me and get on with my life. I want to have a half-decent life.
"I want this court to know I have no animosity toward anybody," Barone said. "I'm not threatening anybody. The only thing I want to do is go home and be with my family."
The judge found that a federal prosecutor had failed to tell the defense during Barone's 1993 trial that a key government witness had changed his story just before trial but wasn't allowed to recant his claim that Barone gunned down Vincent "Jimmy" Limoli in 1985 at the behest of mobster Vincent Ferrara.
Walter Jordan, the key witness against Barone and his former brother-in-law, came forward a year ago and said that he had lied on the witness stand. A memo written by a Boston police detective detailed Jordan's recantation but was never turned over to Barone's lawyers by prosecutors.
Barone, who has been jailed since his 1988 arrest, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in state court in Limoli's killing and was sentenced to five years. But the allegation that the murder was committed on behalf of the Mafia allowed prosecutors to bring the federal charge of murder in aid of racketeering against Barone.
Wolf said he was unhappy that the government didn't just drop the case. "It's not just disappointing, but disturbing and dishonorable," Wolf said.
Wolf berated prosecutors during the two-hour hearing for not apologizing to Barone for failing to turn over evidence at trial that the judge said would probably have led to his acquittal.
US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan, who was not in office at the time of Barone's trial, bristled at Wolf's remark. "I feel no need at all to apologize to a convicted killer," Sullivan told reporters later. "Mr. Barone has admitted his guilt for the killing of his best friend. . . . I apologize to the victims that have suffered at the hands of Mr. Barone and are suffering at the hands of justice, as well."
At yesterday's hearing, Barone admitted that he shot Limoli in the North End on Oct. 28, 1985, after Limoli stole drugs from a mobster. Limoli had been the best man at Barone's wedding and the godfather of his daughter.
Barone also admitted that he helped kill another man, Anthony "Dapper" Corlito, on July 21, 1979, and shot a guard in the neck during the robbery of a credit union on Nov. 5, 1982. As part of Barone's agreement, the Suffolk district attorney's office has agreed not to prosecute him in state court for Corlito's murder.
Sullivan disputed Wolf's finding that the evidence would have led to Barone's acquittal, saying, "The impact it would have had at trial is a matter of a difference of opinion." Sullivan also said prosecutors were prepared to retry Barone on racketeering charges but believed that Barone's guilty plea allowed them to avoid protacted legal proceedings and appeals. He also said that the maximum sentence Barone would have received if convicted was 20 years, and he's already served 15 for his federal and state convictions.
Assistant US Attorney James F. Lang told the judge: "I hope your honor wasn't intending to characterize this plea agreement as extortionate conduct on the part of the government. It was certainly nothing of the kind."
Lang said the agreement was a "vigorously negotiated settlement between the parties" in light of the developments in the case. He said the government believes it's an appropriate resolution.
Defense attorneys Richard Egbert and Bernard Grossberg said the plea agreement was the only way that Barone could win his freedom immediately and avoid the possibility of another two years in prison while the government appealed Wolf's findings of government misconduct.
"It would have been nice if the government had recognized the harm that the prosecutor's misconduct had created and dismissed this case, but they didn't," Egbert said. "We made a judgment that his liberty was foremost. . . . The consequences when the government cheats are extraordinary, and every citizen should understand the harm that comes. And he lived that in living color."
After trading his orange prison jumpsuit for a black running suit and T-shirt, Barone walked out of a cell inside the US marshals office at the federal courthouse just before 4:30 p.m. and was greeted by about 20 relatives, including his 19-year-old daughter, two sisters, and his brother.
"Let's go get drunk," he joked, as he went through a receiving line of hugs and kisses. Then he told his lawyers, "I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you."
When asked about his plans, Barone said: "I'm just so overwhelmed with everything right now. I'm just going to take it easy and enjoy the things I missed. I'd like a nice meal at my sister's."
Barone's parents, who attended all his other proceedings, weren't in court yesterday. But he said that they were returning from a trip and that he planned to show up at the door of their North End home after leaving court.
Barone's daughter, Celia, 19, was 4 when her father went to prison; she is now taller than he. "It's exciting," she said. "I have my father home. I don't understand a lot of it. I'm just glad it all worked out in the end. I get to start my life over with him."