The murder, at first, seemed like a major mob hit out of 1980s New York: In a Staten Island neighborhood with mafia ties, the alleged head of the Gambino crime family gets gunned down outside his home on March 13, where he dies from multiple wounds. But as the story has developed, the details surrounding it have only grown to be increasingly bizarre, showing that this murder was no mob hit at all.
Below, here’s everything we know.
What exactly happened?
The night of March 13, the New York Times reports that alleged boss of the Gambino crime family, 53-year-old Francesco Cali, was fatally shot outside his house in Todt Hill, Staten Island. Per surveillance footage, a pickup truck rammed into a vehicle and knocked off its license plate outside of Cali’s home, which compelled him to come out of his house. The suspect and Cali then approached each other, where the former handed Cali the detached license plate and then shot him 10 times.
Who is the suspect?
His name is Anthony Comello, and he’s a 24-year-old Staten Island native who lived with his parents, and who law officials say has no mafia ties. On March 16, law enforcement identified Comello as the owner of the pickup truck in the surveillance video and arrested him in Brick, New Jersey, where he was hiding at a family house. Per Rolling Stone, Comello almost immediately confessed to the murder and is currently being held in New Jersey’s Ocean County Jail.
On March 26, Comello was formally charged with murder, assault, and criminal possession of a loaded firearm, to which his lawyer Robert Gottlieb says he plans to plead “unequivocally not guilty.”
Is there anything else about the suspect worth knowing?
Here is where the narrative starts to get more peculiar. At a March 18 extradition hearing in New Jersey, during which Comello agreed to be tried for the murder, he drew on the palm of his hand “MAGA Forever,” as well as a number of phrases relating to right-wing conspiracy theory QAnon: a “Q,” “United We Stand,” and “Patriots in Charge.” (QAnon, which is pro-Trump, popular with 4chan and 8chan users, and incredibly convoluted, posits that there’s a “deep state” trying to take down Trump. In an attempt to describe the right-wing conspiracy theory, the Guardian wrote, “imagine a volatile mix of Pizzagate, InfoWars and the Satanic Panic of the 1980s.”)
On March 26, Gottlieb pointed to not only to “right-wing conspiracy websites,” but also hate speech coming from “politicians, including right at the White House” as being highly influential on his client.
“Those words … have an effect,” he said in court. “The truth and the reasons for whatever happened here will become so clear, and will be shown to be directly related to the hate that people are bombarded with every day on the internet and elsewhere.”
Also, another detail worth noting: Per NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Miller and other police sources, Comello attempted to make a number of citizen’s arrests of politicians in the past year. On February 21, he showed up at a federal courthouse in lower Manhattan, asking to make a citizen’s arrest of California Democratic representatives Adam Schiff and Maxine Waters; the next day, he tried to do the same with Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Why would Comello kill Cali?
One thing appears to be certain: This murder didn’t have anything to do with organized crime. At first, law enforcement thought the murder may have been a gruesome crime of passion, as investigators believed that Comello was romantically interested in Cali’s niece, whom the alleged boss had barred him from seeing. Court documents filed on July 19, though, suggest that Comello’s motive may have been based in his adherence to right-wing conspiracy theories.
According to documents, which were obtained by the New York Times, Comello wanted to perform a citizen’s arrest on Cali to help Trump, as he believed the mob boss was part of the “deep state.” (Followers of the deep-state conspiracy believe that a shadowy group of people is actively trying to delegitimize the Trump administration by manipulating government policy.) When Cali didn’t comply with the citizen’s arrest, though, Comello killed him out of fear, per the documents.
“He ardently believed that Francesco Cali, a boss in the Gambino crime family, was a prominent member of the deep state, and, accordingly, an appropriate target for a citizen’s arrest,” Gottlieb wrote. “Mr. Comello became certain that he was enjoying the protection of President Trump himself, and that he had the president’s full support.”
What is still unclear, though, is why Comello thought Cali belonged to the deep state.
What is the defense saying about all of this?
According to the Times, Gottlieb is planning to argue that Comello is not guilty, due to mental defect; instead, he will ask the court to put him in psychiatric treatment.
This post will be updated as we learn more.