“FIND ME GUILTY”— Based on a True Story

“FIND ME GUILTY”

Based on a True Story

Amos Lassen

Sidney Lumet’s “Find Me Guilty” is a very funny testament to bad courtroom behavior. Believe it or not, Vin Diesel gives am excellent performance in the movie that is the  true story of the most remarkable criminal trial in US history. We see that justice has a strange sense of humor!

“When they f— with me,” Jackie DiNorscio (Vin Diesel) says, “they wake a sleeping giant.” DiNorscio is the wild card in the longest trial in American history, a 21-month extravaganza aimed at the Lucchese crime family of New Jersey. There are 20 defendants and they all have defense attorneys except Jackie, who represents himself.

Jackie is already serving a 30-year sentence when the trial begins. He’s offered a deal: to testify against his fellow villains and get a reduction in his sentence. “I don’t rat on my friends,” he says. That’s for sure. He even forgives a cousin who pumps four bullets into him. “I love him” he says. “Live and let live.” When the cops ask him to name the shooter, he intones, “My eyes were shut the whole time.”.

The defendants here are killers, thieves, extortionists, drug dealers, pimps and otherwise ill-behaved criminals. No one doubts they are guilty. But against their predations the movie sets Jackie DiNorscio, who says he is “not a gangster but a gagster,” and aggravates the prosecution, the defense, the judge, and his fellow defendants. Only the jury likes him and he keeps them laughing.

Jackie is loyal to mobsters who ordered him to be whacked. He spends less time defending himself than in offering a running commentary on the judicial system. He cuts through the shady testimony. “

Jackie’s moral position is hard to define. He seems to value friendship and loyalty above all, and to disregard such imperfections as murder. He is loyal to Calabrese even after the mobster tells him, “If you mention my name in this courtroom one more time, I will cut your heart out.” He loves the guy. The movie’s title comes from his closing statement, in which he tells the jury he’s already serving 30 years and has nothing to lose: “Find me guilty,” he says, but let off his friends.

We do not cheer for him but he is the underdog in a system that offends common sense. A defense attorney who needs five days to summarize his argument doesn’t have one. Subtitles remind us how many days the trial has lasted; they climb above 500. A defendant has a heart attack, is brought into court on a bed, falls out of the bed. A mother dies. The chief prosecutor, Sean Kierney (Linus Roache) doesn’t like to be laughed at and retaliates by taking away the prized recliner in Jackie’s jail cell. The judge (Ron Silver) would cut Jackie loose from the case, except that might lead to a mistrial.

This movie is very interesting not because of the trial but because we have a Kafkaesque system that can only work if there are no Jackies to point out its absurdities. We in the audience are left without cheering rights. Since  we do not see the defendants actually seen doing anything evil, we don’t really care about their conviction but surely they cannot be found innocent. The trial comes down to: Can Jackie get away with his act? And if he does, so what? He’s still facing 30 years. Good and evil and we focus on a contest between drones and a wise guy and it is very entertaining.

Sidney Lumet shows us the longest trial in US history from the perspective of the criminal side and it casts a dark shadow on our legal system, the police, and government in general. The movie starts off with Jackie getting shot multiple times by his cousin, ending up in a hospital bed clinging to life but unwilling to cooperate with the police to capture the gunman whom he professes to love. He is set up on drug charges (completely guilty though, in a surprise twist for the director) which is later used as a bargaining chip for his cooperation in testifying against the Lucchese family he has worked for in various capacities. 

The federal authorities obtained over 70 felony indictments against the twenty defendants and wanted someone to strengthen their case with this being a RICO Act case (criminal conspiracies to commit various felonies are more complicated but have the benefit of mandatory sentencing and a relatively easy level of proof in many ways). Having been sentenced to 30 years in prison for the drug charge (largely due to ineffective counsel), Jackie has nothing to lose by cooperating except for years off of his sentence. The prosecutor has never lost a case, has thousands of items of evidence, scores of low level scum willing to testify, and the knowledge that he is fighting the good fight in the name of law & order but doesn’t want to chance anything. Jackie turns him down and is subjected to a harsh beating, deciding to represent himself rather than throw away another bunch of money on the shyster. He is already doing a lengthy sentence and has nothing to lose though the other defendants fear he will weaken their cases and make it clear that he will not live to do so if he messes up. 

Thus began the court case lasting over 600 days back in the 1980’s as shown in the movie and it is great fun.

Bonus Materials

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of the main feature 
  • Audio: English 5.1 Dolby Surround
  • English and Spanish Subtitles
  • A Conversation with Director Sidney Lumet featurette (SD, 4:43)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:27)
  • 3 TV Spots (SD)

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