NEW YORK -- Firing questions with derision and disdain, a defense lawyer tore into Salvatore Gravano, attacking the character and credibility of the stoic Mafia turncoat who is the prosecution's crucial witness against John Gotti.
On his first day of cross-examination yesterday, Gravano seemed coldly composed in general but a bit edgy at times as he leaned back in his seat and stared at his inquisitor, Albert J. Krieger, in the racketeering-murder trial at U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.
"When I was a kid, I was involved in gangs, dropped out of school in the eighth grade," Gravano said, explaining how he had begun a life of crime. "It didn't seem wrong; the whole lifestyle didn't seem wrong."
Pacing back and forth behind the lectern, Krieger asked what "a person who is playing the role that you are playing" would be called in the society in which he grew up.
"An informer," Gravano replied.
"Some other word?" Krieger prodded.
"Rat," Gravano answered, as Gotti scowled at him from the defense table.
Gravano said that he helped Gotti supervise the murder of Paul Castellano in 1985 and that Gotti succeeded the murdered man as the boss of the Gambino crime family.
After acknowledging that they came to know each other much better after 1985, Gravano agreed with the lawyer's statement that Gotti took "some very strong philosophical stands."
"Now, sir, you know, sir, as an absolutely unquestioned fact that John Gotti is dead set against drugs, right?" Mr. Krieger asked.
"Yes," Gravano answered.
It was an important point for the defense because the prosecution contends that Gotti's support of drug-dealing associates was the primary reason for the slaying of Castellano, who had banned all drug trafficking by the Gambino organization under penalty of death.