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William Saffire eat your heart out.

Defense Closes With Style in Trial of 2 Ex-Detectives

Bruce Cutler stood up yesterday and buttoned his suit coat. It was a dark blue suit coat, and he gave its shoulders a quick athletic roll, then went to work.

He raised his voice. He raised his fist. He raised the issue of whether ducks can stand a chance against coyotes and then, amid digressions into David Lean's movie "The Bridge on the River Kwai" and the life of Crazy Horse, the Oglala Sioux warrior chief, he drew upon his 2,072-page fourth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary and raised a last argument in defense of his client, Louis J. Eppolito, a defendant in the so-called Mafia Cops case.

Though Mr. Eppolito stands at the center of the federal trial — accused, with his former partner, Stephen Caracappa, of killing for the mob — Mr. Cutler, 57, has stood as the trial's resident semiotician. His summation was less a legal argument than a free-associative ode, a lawyerly tone poem on the themes of hope, justice and the spoken word.

"I've tried as best I can to use the English language in a precise way," he told the jury. "I've tried to use words in a precise way. It was drilled into me as a boy."

Thus it was that he turned to the dictionary — "Because that's where the words are," he explained — and read aloud the definition of "justice" ("the quality of being just, fairness"), which led him, somehow, to the definition of "spring" ("the season of the year between winter and summer during which the weather becomes warmer and plants revive"), which led him to the definition of "hope" ("to wish for something with an expectation of its fulfillment"), which led him to his own hopes, which were, as he put it, that in the future, people like the government's witnesses — men he has attacked as "desiccated miserable lowlifes" — "will not be permitted in a court of law, a temple of justice."

From the start, the Brooklyn racketeering trial has had its share of literary moments (including mentions of Mr. Eppolito's memoir, "Mafia Cop"), but Mr. Cutler's presentation was a masterpiece of rambling allusion, including references to Émile Zola, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Brooklyn Bridge, the Acela train and the soullessness of television — all delivered in what could be called the Belle Apocalyptic style.

It may be best — at least in terms of his summation — to think of Mr. Cutler less as a lawyer than a poet, a bebopping, stream-of-consciousness type who progresses more by rhythm than by logic. At times he swerved between the third and second person, addressing unseen government witnesses; at others, he donned someone else's first person, assuming the identities of the witnesses themselves.

He proved himself a master not only of the metaphor (saying that Mr. Eppolito had carried "the backpack of his lineage" so long that "his legs grew strong"), but also of the pejorative.

A short list of the insults he has hurled includes: "cretin," "reprobate," "bum," "degenerate," "thieving scurvy lowlife" and "sophisticated unctuous polished lowlife thief." But yesterday he outdid even himself when he referred to a 5-foot-4, illiterate government witness as a "gnome" — defined, from the dictionary again, as "one of a race of dwarflike creatures who live underground and guard treasure hoards."

In between these slights, Mr. Cutler derided the reporters covering the trial as "scribes" and the prosecutors as men "with light shows and erudition" whose "machines are bereft and denuded of life."

"There is no hope in those machines," he said.

He even found time to discuss his client, a man who, unlike the "intelligent, educated, sophisticated, professional" prosecutors, was "a cop," "a working man," "a man who has to be someplace, to do something, who contributes somehow." It was a leitmotif of his summation: the distinction between the working class and the federal elite.

The embodiment of that elite was, in some sense, Robert Henoch, the chief prosecutor, an earnest, Jimmy Stewart-like man, who has said that his father has attended every one of his trials. Mr. Henoch closed the government's case yesterday with a rebuttal summary; today the jury is expected to get the case.

Mr. Henoch is a colonel in the Army Reserve and seemed affronted by Mr. Cutler's slurs.

"You can't just say it and it becomes true," he said in his rebuttal. "You need evidence in a temple of justice — not just words from the dictionary."


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