A reputed mobster has been found not guilty of planning a brazen 1978 airport heist that helped to inspire the Mafia film Goodfellas.
After the verdict, the 80-year-old Vincent Asaro walked out of the courthouse in Brooklyn and threw his hands into the air, shouting: “Free!”
He was cleared of murder, extortion and other crimes after a three-week trial.
His arrest last year had raised hopes that one of the country’s most infamous unsolved crimes would be closed.
The theft by masked men of $5m in cash and $1m in jewels from a Lufthansa Airlines cargo building at New York’s John F Kennedy Airport was the biggest robbery ever carried out at the time.
Prosecutors said Mr Asaro waited in a decoy car about a mile away with another gangster Jimmy Burke, who inspired the character played by Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s cult film.
Lawyers spent years building a case against the defendant, the only man arrested over the crime, and had called on senior Mafia figures to give evidence.
The US attorney’s office declined to comment after the verdict, a reticence not shared by a jubilant and dumbfounded Mr Asaro.
“I was shocked, I was really shocked,” he told reporters outside the courthouse, where major mobsters like John Gotti had been convicted in the past.
In closing arguments, Assistant US Attorney Alicyn Cooley told the court the defendant, whose father and grandfather were members of the secretive Bonanno crime family, “was born into that life and he fully embraced it”.
The state’s case relied heavily on the evidence of Mr Asaro’s cousin Gaspare Valenti but defence lawyers tried to discredit such witnesses as “accomplished liars”.
Taking the witness stand last month, Mr Valenti told the court that Mr Asaro and Mr Burke killed a suspected informant using a dog chain and then ordered him to bury the body.
As he walked free from court, getting into a waiting car, Mr Asaro joked to his lawyers: “Sam, don’t let them see the body in the trunk.”
Jimmy Burke died in 1996 while serving a 20-year sentence for the murder of a drug dealer. He was suspected of, but never prosecuted over, the Lufthansa robbery or the subsequent deaths of many of those suspected of taking part in the heist.