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New Trial? Seventh Circuit Hears Operation Family Secrets Appeal

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on February 16, 2012 3:02 PM

Will the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overturn convictions stemming from one of Chicago’s biggest mob trials?

The appellate court heard arguments on Monday from attorneys representing five alleged Chicago mobsters who claim that the judge in the Operation Family Secrets trial had inappropriate contact with the jury. The defendants are asking for a new trial, reports the Associated Press.

Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, Frank Calabrese Sr., James Marcello, Paul "The Indian" Schiro, and former Chicago police Officer Anthony "Twan" Doyle -- were convicted in a racketeering conspiracy in 2007. Calabrese, Lombardo and Marcello were held responsible for a combined 10 murders and sentenced to life in prison, reports The Chicago Tribune.

Judge Diane Wood expressed concern during the hearing about accounts that Judge James Zagel occasionally wandered into the jury room during the trial, while the appellants' lawyers complained that Judge Zagel dismissed a juror who claimed that she felt threatened without informing defense counsel or listening to their views on the matter, according to the AP. Wood commented, "There's a real problem here with how the trial judge approached it ... having all these private chats with people," according to the AP. Private chats, Wood noted, are not documented for the record, which makes appellate review more complicated.

Prosecutors, however, countered that Judge Zagel's error -- if there was an error -- was harmless, and did not affect the verdict.

Finger-pointing wasn't restricted to Judge Zagel during the arguments. The defendants also argued that they were prejudiced by being prosecuted jointly in the Operation Family Secrets trial, indicating the Calabrese's outbursts during the trial -- including a threat allegedly mouthed toward the prosecutor -- interfered with the trial.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals did not rule immediately on the appeal, and a ruling could take several weeks, reports the AP.

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