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Dead Killer Identified as Defense Attorney

March 28, 2003|Akilah Johnson | Times Staff Writer

A lawyer who shot and killed a close friend and then killed himself Wednesday night in Redondo Beach was identified as Gerald V. Scotti, a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney and former federal drug agent who, two decades ago, helped win acquittal of millionaire John DeLorean of drug charges.

Police said Scotti, 54, of Marina del Rey killed Barry Feldman, 52, a business associate and paralegal, after they argued over a business matter in law offices in the Plaza Rialto office building on Catalina Avenue. Scotti then shot himself in the head.

About 4:45 p.m., Scotti arrived at the third-story office suite of criminal defense lawyer Carl A. Cappozola. Cappozola had arranged the meeting to allow the men to discuss a "business issue,'' police said. Friends of the men said that, despite their closeness, their friendship had been strained by financial issues.

Feldman "owed Mr. Scotti funds, and Mr. Scotti was angry about it," Cappozola said. "They came to my office to talk out their differences."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday April 11, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 77 words Type of Material: Correction
Redondo Beach shooting -- An article in the March 28 California section about a murder-suicide at a law office stated that attorney Carl A. Cappozola dived beneath his desk and dialed 911 when the shooting began. This was based on an account by Redondo Beach Police Sgt. Peter Grimm. Cappozola, who was the only witness to the shooting, said he did not dive under his desk. Rather, he said, he went to another room and dialed 911.

Cappozola said he had offered -- as a friend -- to draw up a settlement agreement between the two but he would not discuss the specifics of the dispute.

Cappozola also said he thought Scotti had been drinking.

It wasn't long before the meeting "went bad," police said.

With a stunned Cappozola looking on, Scotti pulled a .38- caliber revolver and fired three bullets into Feldman's chest.

"I sat there and watched what happened and then wondered if he was going to think about shooting me," Cappozola said. Cappozola, an ex-Marine fighter pilot, dove beneath his desk and dialed 911.

As Feldman reeled from the gunshots, stumbled into the hallway and collapsed, Scotti turned the weapon on himself.

Word of the shooting left friends and colleagues of the men shocked and devastated. The two had been extremely close and were often seen together, sometimes at the Sport's Harbor bar in Marina del Rey after work.

In Scotti's Beverly Hills' office, office assistant Nelson Quintanilla grabbed the baby blue L.A. Lakers' jacket that Scotti had tried to give to him Wednesday and called the situation unbelievable. "They were just here yesterday."

"They walked out together. They were talking," he said before wandering into Feldman's small office crammed with legal papers and Daffy Duck figurines. "They were like buddies. They would go to concerts together. They use to love gambling together, Vegas type, when it came to football."

Quintanilla, 33, said Feldman had a "cute little mutt puppy" that he adored. "I can tell by the fact that he cared for a little dog that he was a loving person. Who's going to take care of his dog now?"

Former clients and colleagues of Scotti, who was divorced, said they were at a loss to explain his behavior.

"I can't believe, I never would have thought Jerry could do something like this. He never struck me as someone who was self-destructive," said David Chesnoff, a federal criminal defense attorney in Las Vegas. Chesnoff, who had worked with Scotti on several occasions and became a close friend, described him as warm-hearted and gregarious.

"Jerry was tough, but he wasn't hard, if you know what I mean," Chesnoff said. "I'm usually not enamored of lawyers who come from law enforcement, but Jerry made the transition quite well."

Scotti's best-known case was the defense of accused Hollywood madam Jody "Babydol" Gibson.

But even before he became a lawyer, he was instrumental in the 1984 acquittal of DeLorean, the celebrity millionaire and auto designer who was caught on videotape discussing cocaine deals with government agents who posed as drug dealers. As a witness and Drug Enforcement Agency special agent, Scotti testified at trial that he had heard a government informer promise to "deliver" DeLorean to the government.

The testimony helped persuade the jury that DeLorean had been entrapped.

Former client Gibson, who served 22 months in prison for operating a high-priced prostitution ring, said that she was fond of Scotti, but that she hired him for his take-no-prisoners courtroom manner.

In choosing an attorney, she said, "I contacted every high-profile attorney in the business. He was the last one I met with. I wanted someone who would go for the jugular, and he was it."

In the clubby world of Los Angeles criminal defense work, Scotti was valued for his skill at impeaching prosecution witnesses.

"There are all kinds of attorneys, and who you hire depends on what you're looking for," Gibson said. "Robert Shapiro is a dealmaker, Tony Brooklier has polish. What I was looking for was someone who would be a real barracuda.... Jerry could really annihilate on re-cross."

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