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Man gets life in 1981 killings of bar owners over drink, other crimes

By Marina Carver, CNN
updated 9:04 PM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
Bartolomeo Vernace, 65, was sentenced in U.S. District Court to life without parole plus 10 years for his 2013 racketeering conspiracy conviction.
Bartolomeo Vernace, 65, was sentenced in U.S. District Court to life without parole plus 10 years for his 2013 racketeering conspiracy conviction.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Reputed member of Gambino crime family gets life in prison
  • Bar owners gunned down in 1981 over a spilled drink
  • Eyewitness came forward during trial of Bartolomeo Vernace
  • Victim's widow says "justice has finally been served"

New York (CNN) -- Relatives of a bar owner killed more than 30 years ago over a spilled drink said Tuesday the life sentence given to a reputed mobster has finally brought them justice.

Bartolomeo Vernace, 65, was sentenced in U.S. District Court to life without parole plus 10 years for his 2013 racketeering conspiracy conviction.

Criminal acts from 1978 through 2011 included drug trafficking, illegal gambling and the 1981 double homicide of Richard Godkin and business partner John D'Agnese, according to prosecutors. They said Vernace held key roles with the Gambino organized crime family.

"Thirty-three years is a very long time to wait for justice. We have our closure, but we have been waiting for justice," Godkin's daughter, Christine Orsini, told the court shortly before the sentencing.

Vernace, wearing glasses and a blue jumpsuit, declined to make a statement prior to his sentencing.

Defense attorneys Charles Carnesi and Joseph DiBenedetto said there will be an appeal. Vernace has maintained his innocence, Carnesi said.

Family's long journey for justice in case

Godkin and D'Agnese ran the Shamrock Bar in Queens when they were killed the night of April 11, 1981, after a dispute between an alleged Gambino family associate and others in the bar over a drink spilled on his girlfriend.

According to the U.S. Attorney's office, the patron left the crowded bar and picked up Vernace and a third accomplice. They went to the bar and gunned the "two innocent bar owners" down, authorities said.

Vernace, also known as "Bobby Glasses," went into hiding in the weeks after the slaying, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office statement, but would emerge years later to take an active role in the Gambino family.

Vernace was charged in 1998 in Queens County Supreme Court with the deaths of Godkin and D'Agnese, but was acquitted of state charges after trial in 2002, according to prosecutors. According to all accounts, no witness could identify Vernace.

It wasn't until Vernace was arrested in January 2011 as part of a national sweep of 100 alleged members and associates of organized crime that he was brought up on the federal racketeering charges.

During the federal trial in 2013, an eyewitness testified he recognized all three assailants in the bar but lied during the state trial out of fear, saying "two men were dead over a spilled drink. I think that was reason enough to be afraid."

That eyewitness testified that he saw Vernace point a gun at Godkin's head and saw one of Vernace's accomplices threatening D'Agnese with a gun, according to a 2013 statement by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

D'Agnese was shot in the head and Godkin was shot in the chest when he tried to intervene, according to court documents.

Godkin's children and grandchildren filled the courtroom Tuesday and embraced prosecutors following the sentencing.

"It took too long, but we will take it," Godkin's widow, Catherine Godkin, said outside court. "Justice has finally been served thanks to the lawyers, the jury, and all the witnesses who testified."

CNN's Susan Candiotti and Ross Levitt contributed to this report.

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