After decades, odds catch up with 'Crowbar'

MICHAEL OLESKER

March 07, 1991|By MICHAEL OLESKER

''Come here,'' says Dominic ''Crowbar'' Carozza, looking more confident than any human being should look at his very own murder trial.

''Me?'' says a man at the rear of Judge Hillary Caplan's courtroom.

''You,'' says Carozza.

He is sitting at the defense table during a lull in the legal action, and waves one meaty arm like a traffic cop at Calvert and Fayette.

''How's our friend the bookmaker?'' Carozza asks the man at closer range.

''Good. Real good.''

''That's good,'' says Carozza, feeling flush with confidence even as prosecutors outline this case that could send him away for the rest of his life. ''Tell him something for me. Tell him he can make book I'm getting acquitted. Tell him it's 6-to-5 this jury finds me innocent.''

''Six-to-five?'' he is asked. ''That's it?''

Carozza thinks about this for a moment. He glances over at his co-defendant, Robert ''Tattoo Bobby'' Vizzini. Now he gazes above, not to the ceiling but to the heavens. Inspiration is due at any moment.

''Wait a minute,'' he says now, getting a vision and rubbing his forehead like Carnack the Magnificent. ''Wait a minute. Nine-to-two. That's it, 9-to-2 I'm walking. 'Cause it's damn sure I ain't getting a conviction.''

That was last week. On Tuesday, a few days after Crowbar Carozza sat there in Baltimore Circuit Court making book on the outcome of his own life, a jury disagreed with him. They found both Carozza and Vizzini guilty in the murder of a junkie named Russell Charles Baker last June 22 on Pier 7 of the Fells Point waterfront, and the odds on Crowbar dropped off the table altogether.

The murder was classic street business. Prosecutors said Carozza lent money to Baker and Marsha Hammons, who was Crowbar's girlfriend, to buy heroin in Brooklyn, N.Y. Baker and Hammons were to come back to Baltimore and sell the stuff at a nice profit.

Slight problem: Hammons, Baker and Baker's girlfriend, Deana Bishop, used all the heroin themselves before they made it back to Baltimore, and then tried to tell Carozza they got burned in Brooklyn. The next thing anybody knew, Baker had six bullets in him.

That's the way it was told in court, anyway. This parade of witnesses -- who defense attorney Philip Sutley called ''drug addicts, psychopaths, alcoholics, habitual liars'' -- told of

Carozza and Vizzini getting rid of Russell Charles Baker. Some of these witnesses made deals with prosecutors to go easy on their own cases. Sutley called it ''sickening.''

''All the promises made to this bunch of degenerates,'' Crowbar Carozza complained during a trial break. ''Just so they can get me, they let everybody else go. All these deals.''

''Monte Hall,'' said a bemused court officer. '' 'Let's Make A Deal.' ''

''I like that analysis,'' said Carozza, nodding his head appreciatively.

''Don't quote me,'' said the officer.

''You can quote me,'' said Carozza. ''I like it.''

But he didn't like it two days ago, when prosecutor Timothy J. Doory stood in front of the jury and explained the way real life is conducted in the courts of law these days. Deals? Of course there are deals.

''Sometimes you have to let the little fish go to catch the big fish,'' Doory said. ''The fish that was caught was a shark.''

He meant Carozza. For several decades in Crowbar's life now, murder charges came and usually went. Guys got beat up and Crowbar took on a reputation. Some said he dangled a guy off the Bay Bridge because the guy owed money. Crowbar said, nah, he never worked the bridge. Some said he drove a truck through a bar because somebody else owed him money. Crowbar let the story circulate long enough to add to his legend. One guy Crowbar admitted shooting, but that was because the guy came at him with a club.

Finally, somebody got even with Carozza by blowing up his car one morning. Crowbar was in it. He lost a leg in the explosion but never complained.

''I never asked who did it,'' he explained over lunch one day not long ago. ''When you play the game, you don't complain.''

And the legend grew. One thing the legend never included, though, was drugs. Carozza, 59, comes from a different generation of street guys,a different set of ground rules. Playing tough was one thing; making money off needles in veins was something else.

''Come on,'' he said during a break in his trial, ''everybody knows me better than that. Me and drugs? No way. What am I, a total idiot?''

But there is no denying this: The people in his girlfriend's life, and those on the fringes of his own life, were more and more involved with drugs. Usually, junkies' lives get pretty sloppy. Sometimes, they take hostages.

On Albemarle Street, in Little Italy, there has long been a sign on the sidewalk outside Crowbar Carozza's home. In a neighborhood legendary for its lack of parking spaces, the sign says: Reserved for Dominic Carozza.

''You can use my space,'' Carozza said two days ago. ''It should be unoccupied.''

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