Mobster Rocco Zito was pointing a gun at his son-in-law when he was shot dead in his North York bungalow, a murder trial heard Thursday.
“Did you shoot Rocco Zito…?” defence lawyer Brian Ross asked Domenic Scopelliti, 54, in University Ave. court.
“Why?” Ross asked.
“Because I feared for my life,” Scopelliti said. “My life was in danger. He had a gun pointed at me.”
Zito, 87, was shot three times in the chest shortly after 5 p.m. on Jan. 29, 2016 in his home at 160 Playfair Ave. in North York, near Caledonia Rd. and Lawrence Ave. W.
The circumstances of the shooting are at issue.
Scopelliti paused to cry at a couple points during his testimony, as he described life with Zito. Scopelliti and his wife — Zito’s daughter Laura — and four children lived in the basement of Zito’s home.
Scopelliti and his wife have divorced since he shot her father to death.
As Scopelliti testified, his elderly mother made loud, repeated gasping noises in the back of the courtroom, causing Madam Justice Faye McWatt to pause proceedings to check if she was all right.
Testimony resumed when she regained her composure.
Scopelliti described his former father-in-law as a loan shark who demanded repayment of debts but didn’t pay back money he owed, even to his own family.
“He didn’t like to pay people but he liked to collect,” Scopelliti said.
Scopelliti said Zito boasted about killing Toronto photographer Rosario Sciarrino, who was one of his loan shark customers.
“He was very aggressive,” Scopelliti said. “He wouldn’t forget anything.”
Zito was sentenced to 4½ years in prison in 1986 for shooting Sciarrino to death over an unpaid debt.
Court heard that Zito’s home was filled with portraits of himself, including portraits by Sciarrino.
One of those portraits was of Zito looking tough in a trench coat and it hung outside the basement bedroom Scopelliti shared with his then wife.
“Were there photos of you throughout the house?” Ross asked.
“No,” Scopelliti replied. “I didn’t have a say in that … It was not my house.”
“Were you Rocco Zito’s right-hand man?” Ross asked.
“No, no, not in that sense,” Scopelliti said. “I was never involved directly in anything like that.”
Scopelliti said his former father-in-law was condescending.
“He didn’t treat anybody as an equal so I didn’t expect him to treat me like an equal,” Scopelliti said.
He said his former father-in-law also had a strong conservative streak.
“We were raised differently,” Scopelliti said. “Certain rules. Certain respect. Honour.”
“Who was the head of the household at 160 Playfair?” Ross asked.
“My father-in-law of course,” Scopelliti said. “Me, I was the head of my family — my wife and children.”
Ross asked why he didn’t leave if things were so bad.
“In hindsight I wish I had,” Scopelliti said. “It was kind of hard ... Plus he promised to take care of us.”
Scopelliti said it was hard to disagree with his former father-in-law without dire consequences.
“You couldn’t say no to him ... without disrespecting him or anything like that,” Scopelliti said.
“Did you put Rocco Zito’s head through the wall?” Ross asked.
“No, of course not,” Scopelliti said, adding that he did kick holes in the wall in anger after Zito pulled a knife on him at a dinner-table dispute in 2011.
“He tried to kill me,” Scopelliti said of the 2011 incident. “If I didn’t stop, he would have stabbed me.”
The agreed statement of facts in the Scopelliti case notes that Zito was considered by police throughout his adult life to be “a figure of significant power and authority within organized crime, specifically the Italian Mafia.”
Ross asked how Scopelliti knew of Zito’s organized crime side.
“He had people coming by the house,” Scopelliti said. “Not little guys. Big guys … Or they came to pick him up.”
“I was afraid of him,” Scopelliti added.
Scopelliti said Zito encouraged him to make silencers in the basement, which could be used to muffle the sound of gunshots.
“He said, ‘They’re valuable. You can sell them.’”
He said Zito also showed him a simple way to keep bullets from spraying when firing a handgun.
“He told me, ‘Put a sock on it (pistol),’ ” Scopelliti said, adding that putting a sock around a pistol did catch discharged bullet casings.
Scopelliti said he tried making silencers and fired test shots through basement window. Eventually, he gave up, Scopelliti said.
“It wasn’t silent,” he said.
The trial continues.