Whitey Bulger jury hears evidence of a murderer

John Martorano implicates former friend Bulger in 11 of 19 murders

James “Whitey” Bulger holds John Martorano’s youngest son, John jnr, during his christening ceremony. Photograph: Reuters/US Attorney’s Office of Massachusetts

James “Whitey” Bulger holds John Martorano’s youngest son, John jnr, during his christening ceremony. Photograph: Reuters/US Attorney’s Office of Massachusetts


The second week of the trial of south Boston underworld boss Whitey Bulger began with the unnerving, dispassionate testimony of an admitted murderer of 20 and ended with the poignant words of one of Bulger’s alleged victims.

John Martorano, one of the prosecution’s star witnesses, implicated his former friend Bulger in 11 of the 19 murders with which Bulger is charged. As part of his deal as a government witness, Martorano served just 12 years for 20 murders and was cocky and arrogant on the witness stand.

Hank Brennan, Bulger’s lawyer, didn’t waste words when he began his cross-examination. “Mr Martorano,” he said, “you are a mass murderer, aren’t you?” Martorano denied he was. “You don’t like the term ‘hitman’, do you, Mr Martorano,” asked Brennan.

“I wouldn’t accept money to kill somebody,” he replied.

In fact, in 1981 Martorano accepted $50,000 from his friend John Callahan for murdering Roger Wheeler, a legitimate businessman in Oklahoma who owned a jai alai fronton that Callahan coveted.

Martorano said he later murdered Callahan because Bulger’s corrupt FBI handler, John Connolly, told Bulger that Callahan was likely to implicate them in Wheeler’s murder. Martorano lured Callahan to Florida, picked him up at the airport and let him settle into the front seat of his van before shooting him in the back of the head after putting his bags on the back seat.

Mr Brennan asked Martorano if he felt bad about murdering 19-year-old Elizabeth Dickson and 17-year-old Douglas Barrett when the innocent teenagers were sitting in a car with a guy named Herbert Smith who was a target because he gave a beating to Steve Flemmi, Bulger’s partner in crime.

“You don’t want to admit you killed the young woman, do you?” asked Brennan.

“They were full grown and had hoods on,” Martorano replied. “I still feel bad.”

Rake a telephone booth
For the first time, in federal court, Martorano on Tuesday portrayed Bulger as a shooter, explaining how he drove Bulger and Flemmi to Dorchester so they could rake a telephone booth where a former boxer and pub owner named Eddie Connors was making a call. Connors had to go, Martorano said, because he had been bragging about helping Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang take out a small-time hood named Spike O’Toole, who was shot as he hid behind a mail box.

Mr Brennan got Martorano to take the jury through a list of killings in which he shot the wrong or innocent people. Martorano blamed Bulger for getting him to kill some people and blamed a mob associate named John Hurley for wrongly identifying an innocent man as a rival gangster.

Hurley, who is dead, was a big fundraiser and weapons procurer for the IRA.

In one dramatic confrontation, Mr Brennan asked Martorano to stop blaming others for murders he committed.

Martorano’s arrogance was in dramatic contrast to the testimony of Diane Sussman de Tennen. She was a 23-year-old dietician in 1973 when wounded and her friend Mike Milano was killed. Her boyfriend Louis Lapiana was paralysed when Martorano shot their car up by mistake in 1973.

Lapiana and Milano worked as bartenders in a pub near Boston’s North End. Milano gave Lapiana and Ms de Tennen a ride home one night after work.

“Michael had his new car out front,” Ms de Tennen testified. “It was a Mercedes. He was very proud of it. I had the honour of sitting in the front seat. It was a beautiful car.” But it was star-crossed, because it looked just like the car driven by Al “Indian Al” Notarangeli, who was marked for death by Bulger’s gang.

As the three friends drove through the North End, they had no idea they were being followed by a car full of killers led by John Martorano.

The shooters pulled alongside them at a traffic light and everything exploded, she said.

But her Californian instincts kicked in. “Like when you hear an earthquake,” she said. “I ducked. That’s the only reason I’m still here.”

The assassins roared off, as did a back-up hit car that Whitey Bulger was driving. Ms de Tennen got out and called to Milano but he was dead. She went to the back seat and asked Lapiana if he was all right. He mouthed a “no” and she knew it was bad.

She leaned on the horn, blaring for help, then took off her jacket and realised she had been shot. When the police came, she fought with them because they wouldn’t let her get in the ambulance with Lapiana. She was in the hospital for two days, then she went to see Lapiana. “They had to shave his head,” she said. “They saved his moustache.”

The shooting left Lapiana paralysed. Ms De Tennen said she regularly called Lapiana and the nurses would hold the phone up to his ear so he could hear her voice. “Louie couldn’t answer but the nurses told me he was smiling.”

Forty years after Michael Milano died and Louie Lapiana was paralysed, Ms de Tennen’s voice still resonated with grief.

Many jurors appeared moved as she explained how the shooting changed her relationship with Lapiana. No longer a couple, they remained life-long friends.

“I was married and my children were not Louie’s but part of my life was Louie,” she said.

Lapiana moved out to the west coast to be near her, living at the Veterans Administration hospital in Long Beach. She learned how to clear his tubes. She learned how to run his wheelchair. She and her husband brought their kids to see Lapiana in the hospital. He died 12 years ago.

De Tennen left the witness box and walked past Whitey Bulger, who averted his eyes and betrayed no emotion.