Steve Mandell ranted and raved for half an hour.
He called the case against him “phantasmagorically ridiculous.”
And he said “even Helen Keller could see” that he’d been framed and that he’d never have followed through with his “hoax” plot.
Nobody in the packed courtroom had expected less from the Outfit-connected 64-year-old former Chicago cop, an incorrigible ham who loudly maintained his innocence even after he was convicted in February of concocting a gruesome plot to kidnap, torture, extort, kill and dismember a suburban businessman.
But his desperation was palpable. Everyone in the courtroom had seen the damning, secretly filmed FBI video of him chuckling inside the meat-cleaver and buzz saw-equipped torture chamber he built on the Northwest Side.
And on Thursday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve sentenced him to life in prison, plus five years, calling him an “evil” man.
“The public needs protecting from you,” St. Eve told an impassive Mandell after he had finally quieted down. “Your actions in this case, Mr. Mandell, were evil, and showed a complete disregard for human life.”
Referring to the shocking video of Mandell and his accomplice, Gary Engel, laughing as they discussed how they’d use a razor blade to turn Riverside businessman Steve Campbell’s genitals into a “banana split” while torturing him into turning over his property portfolio, the judge said, “The thrill you showed in putting another person in pain and in torturing was chilling.
“The glee on your face was very apparent.”
Though Mandell vowed to appeal, the life sentence St. Eve imposed comes without the possibility of parole and likely marks the final chapter in Mandell’s wild life story.
Suspected of at least five murders over the decades, Mandell was sent to Death Row for a 1990 slaying, only to be freed after 14 years when his conviction was overturned on appeal. He went on to win a landmark $6.5 million civil verdict against the FBI for framing him in that case, but never saw a penny after a judge threw out the judgment, saying there was strong evidence he was in fact guilty.
Mandell’s lawyer, Francis Lipuma, on Thursday argued that Mandell should get credit for the 14 years he spent behind bars “for a crime he didn’t commit,” adding that Mandell ‘s “hope is that at an old age he’ll be able to walk out of prison and have freedom again.”
But St. Eve said that she was “extremely disturbed” that Mandell chose to reoffend after he was sentenced to death in the 1990s. “If that experience didn’t deter you from engaging in this type of horrible crime, then I don’t think anything will,” she said.
Though most criminals mellow in old age, Mandell, who worked as a Chicago cop for a decade in the 1970s and has prior convictions for burglary, will still be capable of murder in his 80s, the judge added. If the FBI had not stepped in to arrest Mandell and Engel moments before they planned to abduct Campbell, Campbell would be dead, she said.
“I do not see an inkling of remorse,” she told Mandell, who took the stand in his own defense at his trial, and who again on Thursday accused the FBI of retaliating against him for getting off Death Row, claiming the Feds had allowed themselves to be hoodwinked by their informant, North Shore real estate magnate George Michael.
The judge twiddled her thumbs and openly looked at the clock as Mandell spun a lengthy and incoherent conspiracy theory about how Michael had set him up to get the IRS off his back, and how the murder plot was simply “a melodramatic masquerade” to con Michael.
She showed no reaction as Mandell ended his bizarre rant by wishing her a “Merry Christmas!”
Later, though, she noted that Michael was nowhere to be seen on the video inside the torture chamber on West Devon Ave., which Mandell and Engel had equipped with a man-sized butcher’s block to chop up Campbell’s body and a giant sink for draining his blood.
Prosecutors declined to comment after Mandell was led back to his cell to begin serving his life sentence.
But in urging a life sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amar Bhachu told the court that Mandell was “the mastermind of a truly barbaric crime.”
Though Engel — who committed suicide in jail after their capture in Oct. 2012 — was also involved, Mandell was the leader, he said.
Pointing at the bald Mandell, he said “This man over here actually takes pleasure from hurting people — he likes it — it arouses him!”
The organized crime world was watching closely and would take note of the sentence, he added.
“Only a village idiot would think that the defendant had never committed a crime like this before,” he said.
He “can quite properly be characterized as a psychopath.”