An 80-year-old reputed mobster was found not guilty on Thursday (12 November) of participating in a 1978 New York airport heist that featured at the heart of the Mafia movie Goodfellas. Vincent Asaro, whose arrest more than 35 years later had supposedly closed one of the most infamous unsolved crimes in US history, was cleared of murder, extortion and other crimes by a jury in Brooklyn federal court.

The verdict is a surprising rebuke to prosecutors in what may be one of the last major Mafia trials stemming from organised crime's 'golden era' in New York between the 1940s and 1970s. Prosecutors said Asaro waited in a decoy car with another gangster, Jimmy Burke, about a mile from John F Kennedy International Airport on 7 December 1978, as a group of masked men stole $6m (£3.94m) in cash and jewels from a Lufthansa Airlines cargo building.

The caper was memorialised in Martin Scorsese's Academy Award-winning 1990 film, in which Robert DeNiro played a character based on Burke, long believed to be the mastermind of the robbery.

Asaro, who prosecutors said is a third-generation member of the Bonanno crime family, had also been charged with strangling a suspected informant with a dog chain in 1969, soliciting the murder of a relative and robbing an armoured car. As he left the courthouse, a beaming Asaro yelled out: "Free!"

"I got two years here, and I'm dying to get home," Asaro, who has been in custody since his January 2014 arrest, told reporters. When asked what he planned to do, he said, "Have a good meal and see my family."

The three-week trial featured numerous former organised crime figures whose testimony painted a picture of the violent life of a New York Mafioso. Until Asaro's arrest, the only man ever charged for the robbery was a Lufthansa employee who functioned as the inside man.