Saturday, September 12, 2020



As we have said here and in Cross-Examination Handbook, the primary goal of cross-examination is to capture the truth from the witness. On cross, you shouldn’t be trying to discover anything; you shouldn’t ask any interrogatory questions. You know the truths that the witness has to offer and you aim to extract those known truths. If the witness fails to provide the truths that you can prove by direct or circumstantial evidence or by common sense, the witness will suffer the consequences.

You may have missed this illustration of how to extract the truth or make the witness look witless when it was first discussed here. It bears repeating.  The Pizza Connection case provides a stark example of how a witness’s testimony can be exposed as comical if the witness refuses to provide the truthful answers. The Pizza Connection case was a mega-trial involving 18 defendants who were charged with a $1.6 billion heroin smuggling and money laundering that stretched from Brazil to small pizzerias in the Midwest. Trial lasted from October 24, 1985 to March 2, 1987.


The following is an excerpt from Shanna Alexander’s book The Pizza Connection: Lawyers, Money, Drugs, Mafia 318-320 (Weidenfeld & Nicholson) (1988) in which she describes United States Attorney Robert Stewart’s cross-examination of an alibi witness and it’s a gem of a cross:


(Defense counsel) Larry Bronson’s defense of (defendant) Sal Greco is focused on his client’s need to prove that he was not in a Bagheria farmhouse in early March 1980 watching a heroin quality-control test. Bronson will show he [Greco] was quietly, busily at home in New Jersey. He calls Greco’s good friend and tax accountant, Justin Pisano, a man who keeps detailed date books.

Under patient examination by Bronson, the witness goes through a precise account of driving to the Jersey Shore three Sundays in March to go over Greco’s accounts and to visit nearby pizzerias with his client in order to compare their business with that of the Greco pizzeria in Neptune City.

Stewart’s cross-examination of Pisano becomes this prosecutor’s finest hour. He concentrates on the March date-book entries.

“On March 2, yes, I drove down to see Greco,” Pisano says, “and we had a leisurely dinner.”

“You told us yesterday you were in no rush, right?”“Yes.”“And that’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

“Yes.”“Then what is this appointment for 7:00 p.m., with Troviatta?”“Just a tax appointment. Early March is income tax time, and I made many Sunday and night appointments to service all my tax clients.”“What is Troviatta’s first name? Where does he live?”“I don’t remember. I don’t even think I do their taxes anymore.”Stewart remembers. He says Pisano was thirty-five miles away from Greco’s pizzeria that night, in the heart of Manhattan, at Lincoln Center, at the opera.Pisano emphatically denies this. He has only been to Lincoln Center once in his life, to hear Pavarotti.“Are you an opera fan?”“Nope. Only been to one opera in my life, when I was in high school.”Stewart shows the witness, and the jury, the Sunday-evening newspaper opera

listing for March 2, 1980, at the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center: La Traviata. Bronson objects. “Misleading the witness, your Honor. 

His witness’s tax client is named Troviatta—with two t’s.”“And the advertisement for the opera is spelled T-R-A-V-I-A-T-A, right?”Stewart asks. “No. It’s La Traviata,” says Pisano gamely.“La Traviata?”“Right. I don’t see the comparison to Troviatta.”“Except for the time. That’s a coincidence. Isn’t it?”Pisano agrees, and Stewart directs him to look at the entry for two Sundays ahead, March 16, at one in the afternoon.“Are you referring to Carmen? Carmen Sangari, who I no longer do?”“Carmen Sangari?” Stewart produces the New York Times, and asks him to read aloud the opera listing for that Sunday afternoon. Pisano looks, and agrees that this is truly an amazing coincidence.

Spectators have begun to giggle. But Stewart is not finished. He directs the wit- ness’s attention to his diary entry for the following Sunday at 7:00 p.m. “Is that a tax client of yours?”

The giggling turns to guffaws. The notebook says, “Barber of Seville.”

This cross illustrates that no matter which way the witness responds, the cross-examiner wins when the question require that the witness concede the truth or suffer the consequences.