Months after 24-year-old Anthony Comello was accused of having gunned down alleged crime boss Francesco “Franky Boy” Cali, his lawyer has claimed that his client did not intend to do so, and instead planned only to perform a citizen’s arrest on Cali that day as part of a convoluted plan to help President Donald Trump and preserve the “American way of life.”
In court documents filed Friday, Comello’s lawyer, Robert C. Gottlieb, argued that his client genuinely believed that Cali was part of a vast conspiracy, The New York Times reports.
Comello, who is currently being held in protective custody pending his murder trial, has been accused of confronting Cali, 53, outside of his home in Stanten Island’s Todt Hill area on March 13 in an interaction that quickly turned deadly. Comello is alleged to have lured Cali into coming outside by first backing his truck into Cali’s vehicle, according to NJ.com. The so-called accident gave Cali a reason to go outside, at which point Comello allegedly shot him several times, with Cali reportedly attempting to hide from the gunfire by taking cover underneath his SUV at one point.
Comello was arrested and charged in relation to the killing, but his lawyer revealed in court filings Friday that he plans to argue that Comello is not guilty by reason of mental defect, according to The Times. Comello was an ardent supporter of an online movement known as QAnon, whose followers believe in a conspiracy theory claiming that the nation is secretly run by a shadow government called the "Deep State.”
“Mr. Comello’s support for ‘QAnon’ went beyond mere participation in a radical political organization,” Gottlieb wrote. “It evolved into a delusional obsession.”
Comello believed that he had been had been supplied with “secret knowledge about the Deep State,” and that he’d been called to “play a grand role in the conflict to save the American way of life,” the filing suggests, according to SILive.com.
Comello had even reportedly become “certain that he was enjoying the protection of President Trump himself, and that he had the president’s full support,” Gottlieb wrote.
Comello, who has reportedly attempted citizen’s arrests in the past, sought to arrest Cali because he believed that the alleged boss of the Gambino crime family was a “prominent member of the deep state,” court documents claim. When Cali did not submit to the arrest and instead reached for his waist, Comello opened fired in self-defense because he believed that his life was in danger, the defense claims.
Even now, Comello does not believe that what he did was wrong, his lawyer said, according to SILive.com.
“He believes that he did his patriotic duty to defend both himself as well as the United States from a dangerous criminal and therefore killing Cali was actually morally right under the circumstances,” the filing reads.
Cali was the first alleged crime boss to be killed in the New York City area in 34 years; Paul Castellano, believed to be the head of the Gambino crime family at the time, was gunned down outside of a Manhattan steakhouse in 1985 in a hit that was allegedly ordered by rival boss John Gotti. However, authorities have claimed that Cali’s killing was not related to organized crime.
Lending some credence to the theory that Comello was more inspired by his own political beliefs than any involvement with the mob is his behavior at one of his first court appearances earlier this year; during an extradition hearing in March, Comello displayed pro-Trump slogans on his hand, including “MAGA Forever” and “United We Stand MAGA.” Also included was a large letter “Q,” likely alluding to his belief in the QAnon conspiracy.
Gottlieb intends to argue in favor of psychiatric treatment for Comello, according to The Times. The Staten Island’s District Attorney’s Office declined to comment to The Times on the case.
Prosecutors have called Cali’s killing “premeditated,” and have claimed that Comello drove by Cali’s house “several times hours before the attack,” according to the New York Post.
Comello will reportedly appear in court again on August 13.
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