James “Whitey” Bulger was condemned as vicious and calculating by a U.S. prosecutor during closing arguments at the trial of the 83-year-old accused mobster and murderer suspected of terrorizing South Boston.
“The evidence at this trial has convincingly proved the defendant is one of the most vicious, violent, calculating criminals to ever walk the streets of Boston,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak told a federal jury today.
Bulger wore a long-sleeved T-shirt, jeans and high-topped white sneakers to the packed hearing. He scribbled furiously on his legal pad during the government’s closing arguments. He didn’t look at the prosecutor.
Bulger, accused of participating in 19 murders and running a racketeering scheme, was captured in 2011 in Santa Monica, California, after being at large for 16 years. The jury must decide whether Bulger spends the rest of his life behind bars for crimes allegedly committed while he ran a gang in South Boston from the 1970s to the early 1990s.
During the two-month trial, jurors heard from prosecution witnesses including John Martorano, a gunman who admitted killing 20 people, sometimes on Bulger’s orders, and Kevin Weeks, a former ally who testified against the defendant.
Stephen Flemmi, another ex-friend, told the jury that Bulger conspired with him to kill people who discovered too much about their illegal activities.
Bulger’s defense attorney, Hank Brennan, used his closing arguments today to target top echelon informants dating back to mob hitman Joseph Barboza in the 1960s. He urged jurors to reject the case against Bulger because of the lenient plea agreements the government struck with his former crime partners in return for their testimony.
“If these men are so dangerous, why haven’t they taken these men off the streets?” Brennan said. “You have to ask yourself what’s going on.”
Another lawyer for Bulger, J.W. Carney, told jurors that out of the 19 murders, Bulger specifically didn’t commit three of them, including the two female victims, Deborah Hussey and Deb Davis. Flemmi killed Hussey, his stepdaughter, after she revealed to her mother that he had been sexually abusing her for years, Carney said. He said Flemmi also killed Davis, his girlfriend, because she was leaving him for another man.
Flemmi avoided a federal death penalty by pleading guilty in 2004 to 10 murders and is serving a life sentence.
Carney also rejected the U.S.’s claim that Bulger murdered Roger Wheeler, a gambling executive for a Florida company called World Jai Alai. Carney said Bulger was satisfied making millions of dollars from cocaine and marijuana sales in South Boston and had no reason to start operations far from home.
Bulger “didn’t need to go beyond South Boston,” Carney said. “It would be insanity for him to try to decamp to Miami and try to take over World Jai Alai.”
Bulger sat quietly and listened while his lawyer spoke to the jury.
Bulger last week declined to testify in his defense, depriving some victims’ family members of the details they sought about FBI corruption that let crimes go unprosecuted for decades. The Federal Bureau of Investigation said Bulger was a longtime informant who corrupted three of its agents.
At a hearing before U.S. District Judge Denise Casper on Aug. 2, Bulger said his decision not to take the stand was made “involuntarily” because he had been “choked off from having an opportunity to give an adequate defense.” Carney said at the start of the trial that his client would testify.
“As far as I’m concerned I didn’t get a fair trial and this is a sham,” Bulger said. “Do what you want with me.”
Bulger’s crimes raised questions about the extent to which federal agents wrongfully protected Bulger from local and state authorities for years before he disappeared, letting him kill and steal in exchange for tips about a bigger FBI target that he was associated with, the Patriarca Family organized crime group.
The relationship came to an end when Bulger vanished in 1994, tipped off about impending charges. The warning came from his longtime FBI handler, Special Agent John Connolly, who’s now serving 50 years in prison for crimes linked to Bulger, including murder.
John Morris, Connolly’s supervisor at the agency, was also implicated. He got immunity from prosecution by admitting he accepted cash from Bulger in exchange for protecting him. Morris testified against Connolly and was a witness against Bulger.
In 1999, then-Attorney General Janet Reno appointed Special Prosecutor John Durham to investigate wrongdoing involving the FBI’s ties with Bulger. While the probe led to Connolly’s conviction, the Justice Department never made the report public.
Brennan told jurors they could use their verdict to punish the government for the FBI’s dealings with criminals.
“At what point as citizens do we say, ‘You know what? There has to be accountability,’” Brennan said.
Wyshak, the prosecutor, said the defense team was wrong to make the trial about government corruption.
“They’re asking you to send some message about how the big bad government needs to learn a lesson from this case,” Wyshak said to the jury. “That would be a violation of your oath.”
The case is U.S. v. Weeks, 99-cr-10371, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).