Defence of Boston gangster Whitey Bulger begins
Lawyers face immense task following seven weeks of devastating testimony
Courtroom sketch depicts Steve Davis (right), brother of homicide victim Debra Davis, allegedly killed by James “Whitey” Bulger (centre) as Davis explodes in anger after Bulger’s former partner Stephen Flemmi (behind right) identified him as a drug user and informant. Photograph: AP Photo/Jane Flavell Collins
Lawyers for Whitey Bulger, the Boston gangster, today begin the Herculean task of rebutting a mountain of evidence that shows he murdered 19 people and made millions from drug trafficking while being protected as an FBI informer.
After 30 days of devastating testimony, much of it from Bulger’s former criminal associates, the prosecution rested on Friday, the last witness being the FBI agent who arrested Bulger at gunpoint in the nondescript Santa Monica apartment complex where had lived as a fugitive in plain view with his girlfriend for 16 years.
While Bulger had vowed never to be taken alive, and had stockpiled an arsenal of 30 guns, FBI agent Scott Garriola said the then 81-year-old mobster surrendered with only a few swear words and a refusal to kneel down.
Bulger’s defiance was not an attempt at suicide-by-cop, Mr Garriola testified, but merely his determination not to stain his white pants on the oil-stained garage floor where he was taken into custody.
Vicious gang leader
For seven weeks, a parade of admitted killers, drug dealers and thugs took the stand to point a finger at Bulger, painting him as a vainglorious, vicious and venal gang leader who amassed millions of dollars by shaking down drug pushers.
Bulger and his apologists had always insisted they kept the drugs out of Southie, as his mostly Irish-American neighbourhood, South Boston, was known. But testimony showed that Bulger demanded tribute from drug dealers so they could sell marijuana and cocaine and other drugs in Southie.
Some of the most devastating evidence against Bulger came from men who said they committed murders with him. John Martorano, an admitted murderer of 20 people, implicated Bulger in 11 murders. Kevin Weeks, Bulger’s protege, testified how Bulger routinely took naps after killing people, leaving Weeks and Steve Flemmi, Bulger’s longtime partner in crime, to bury the bodies.
Bulger lost his famous temper when Mr Weeks referred to him as a rat, slang for informer, and the two men exchanged profanities, which left some jurors slack-jawed.
Some jurors appeared disturbed as they listened to Flemmi, an admitted killer of 10, describe how Bulger strangled Flemmi’s girlfriend Debra Davis in a house right next door to Bulger’s politician brother Bill, the president of the Massachusetts senate.
Five years later, Flemmi said, Whitey Bulger strangled Deborah Hussey, Flemmi’s stepdaughter. Some jurors appeared shocked as Flemmi admitted he had sex with his stepdaughter. He said both women were killed because they knew that Flemmi and Bulger had a secret partnership with John Connolly, their FBI handler.
Bulger’s lawyers have steadfastly denied he was an informant and vehemently deny that he killed the two women. They seem less interested in rebutting evidence that he killed 17 other people, several of them FBI informants themselves, while the FBI helped him target them.
Jay Carney, Bulger’s lead counsel, admitted during his opening argument that his client was guilty of much of what was contained in the government’s racketeering indictment against Mr Bulger.
Some legal observers see Bulger’s legal strategy as trying to gain the benefit of the doubt by admitting to most of the crimes with the hope that jurors would accept his word that he didn’t kill the women or work as an informer.
Mr Carney elicited guffaws from the gallery when he insisted that Bulger couldn’t be an informer because he was Irish and because there is nothing worse in the Irish consciousness than being an informer.
Bulger obtained Irish citizenship through his maternal grandmother, a McCarthy from Cork.