NEW YORK -- John Gotti told a lawyer in a taped conversation replayed by the defense yesterday that he was not involved in the murder of Paul Castellano, a central charge in his racketeering-murder trial.
In the conversation, which the government taped in 1989 with a bug hidden in the hallway of the Ravenite Social Club, Mr. Gotti spoke to a lawyer, Gerald L. Shargel, about the possibility of being arrested for the Castellano murder.
"If, if I'm gonna get pinched," he said on the tape, "I'll break their [obscenity]. When you're innocent, it's easy enough. I'll win on the merits. But this case, I'm innocent. I'll win it. I ain't worried about it."
The prosecution's chief witness, Salvatore Gravano, has testified that Mr. Gotti and his associates sometimes used double talk because he feared electronic surveillance. Mr. Gravano said Mr. Gotti became the boss of the Gambino crime family after arranging the murder of Mr. Castellano in 1985.
The tape, which the prosecution played on Monday, was replayed yesterday as the defense lawyers vehemently challenged the prosecution's version of other tapes in the trial in federal district court in Brooklyn.
In cross-examination, the lawyers assailed interpretations of the tapes by an FBI agent, Lewis Schiliro, who testified as an expert witness.
One of the lawyers, Anthony M. Cardinale, replayed another taped conversation and contended that the prosecution's transcript omitted some words indicating that Mr. Gotti did not know about an associate's drug trafficking.
Where the prosecution's transcript indicated something was inaudible, Mr. Cardinale suggested that Mr. Gotti could be heard saying that earlier tapes could have vindicated him and a lawyer, Michael Coiro, who was convicted of obstruction of justice in a separate case.
Mr. Cardinale said the omitted Gotti words included: "It would have got him off the hook and me off the hook."
"Did you hear those words?" Mr. Cardinale asked the agent after replaying the tape.
"I heard it," Mr. Schiliro conceded.
But when Mr. Gotti said on the tape that he had told the lawyer, "You better not be doing nothing wrong," Mr. Schiliro said: "What he's preaching is, be careful where you talk about criminality."
Mr. Cardinale, the lawyer for Mr. Gotti's co-defendant, Frank Locascio, suggested in a question that the agent invariably reached conclusions intended to help the prosecution. A prosecutor, Laura A. Ward, objected, and Judge I. Leo Glasser sustained the objection.
Albert J. Krieger, Mr. Gotti's lawyer, attacked the agent's interpretation of tapes played on Monday to support charges that Mr. Gotti paid a police detective for information.