Whitey Bulger jury to begin deliberating Tuesday; prosecutors lay out case, while defense questions credibility of key witnesses
A prosecutor in the James J. “Whitey” Bulger federal racketeering and murder trial summed up the government’s extensive case against the notorious Boston gangster today, saying Bulger was one of the worst criminals in the city’s history.
Bulger was “one of the most vicious, violent criminals ever to walk the streets of Boston,” said Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak.
Defense lawyers acknowledged that Bulger had been a millionaire crime boss but questioned the credibility of former Bulger associates who had testified for the prosecution in graphic detail about horrific crimes he allegedly committed.
The defense urged jurors to protect Bulger — who is accused of participating in 19 murders, among a host of other crimes — from a federal government intent on convicting him using testimony from killers and liars.
“You can have the strength and power to come back and say, ‘No, we don’t find that evidence to be proof beyond a reasonable doubt,’” defense attorney Jay W. Carney Jr. urged jurors. “You have the power to stand up to government abuse. ... You will embody our constitutional protections.”
The jury is expected to start deliberations Tuesday after sitting through the marathon session in which prosecution and defense spent a total six hours delivering their closing arguments.
During closing arguments that lasted 2 1/2 hours, Carney and colleague Hank Brennan attacked the credibility of three key prosecution witnesses — former Bulger allies Kevin Weeks, John Martorano, and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi — who cut deals with federal prosecutors that reduced their prison time or saved them from the death penalty.
The defense lawyers told jurors that all three men lied when they implicated the 83-year-old Bulger in extortion, money laundering, and murder, including the killing of Deborah Hussey, Flemmi’s stepdaughter whom Flemmi admitted having sex with.
Martorano spent just 12 years in prison, even though he admit to murdering 20 people; Flemmi was sentenced to life in prison, but escaped the death penalty, after pleading guilty to 10 murders; and Weeks served five years after admitting to witnessing some killings, and then burying — and reburying — the remains of victims.
“The government is buying the testimony of these witnesses,’’ Carney told jurors. “The higher price you pay that witness ... the more the witness is going to give you the testimony you are looking for.’’
At one point, he showed jurors a blown-up version of a portion of Weeks’s testimony.
“I’ve been lying my whole life, I’m a criminal,’’ Weeks had testified.
Carney said he wanted to kiss Weeks at that moment, but also noted that Weeks is the only person ever to threaten him during his long legal career. “Any question in your mind he’s still a thug?’’ Carney asked jurors.
At the same time, Carney acknowledged that his client had been a successful crime kingpin.
“James Bulger oversaw the criminal activities in South Boston,’’ Carney told jurors. “He made millions of dollars doing it.’’
Wyshak, the federal prosecutor, spoke for a total of 3 1/2 hours in his closing argument and in a rebuttal to the defense closing argument, outlining the mountain of evidence marshaled by the prosecution during the trial, which began in mid-June.
He urged jurors to convict the 83-year-old Bulger of the 32 charges he faces under a sweeping federal racketeering indictment.
“We’ve been here for two months, and we’re near the end,” Wyshak told jurors as US District Judge Denise J. Casper looked on. “There’s no doubt that the evidence you heard in this case is deeply disturbing. ... He [Bulger] is legally responsible for it all.’’
Wyshak — who has pursued Bulger since 1995 — acknowledged that prosecutors’ deals with Martorano and Flemmi were unsavory. But Wyshak said they were necessary to convict Bulger.
“It’s not whether you like the witness. They are the most reprehensible people to walk the streets of Boston,” Wyshak said. “But he’s their friend. They both followed [him] as the leader of the Winter Hill Gang. ... It wreaked havoc on this city for decades.”
Prosecutors have alleged that Bulger’s criminal rampage was helped along because he was protected as a prized informant for the FBI. Wyshak said today that because of Bulger’s connection to corrupt FBI agent John Connolly Jr., his handler, at least four people lost their lives.
Bulger’s attorneys have denied that Bulger was a “rat.” But Wyshak said, “It does not matter that Mr. Bulger was an FBI informant when he put the gun to Arthur Barrett’s head and pulled the trigger. Whether he was an informant or not, he’s guilty of murder.”
Arthur “Bucky” Barrett was murdered in July 1983. Bulger allegedly killed him because he and his gang wanted money Barrett had stolen during a 1980 Medford bank heist.
Wyshak also attacked one of the myths that surrounded Bulger during his years as the leader of the Winter Hill Gang and as one of the best-known criminals in his South Boston neighborhood: the notion that Bulger was a criminal, but not a drug dealer.
“This is not about a Robin Hood story about a man who keeps angel dust and heroin out of South Boston,” Wyshak said. He said the reality instead was that South Boston was flooded with drugs, with Bulger’s explicit approval and direct involvement.
Wyshak reminded jurors that Connolly was close to Bulger’s brother, William, the former Senate president and president of the University of Massachusetts system. William Bulger, the prosecutor said, was Connolly’s advocate when Connolly sought to be picked as Boston police commissioner.
William Bulger was not in the courtroom today, although two of his adult children were on hand in the afternoon session.
Connolly tipped James Bulger off that he was about to be indicted, and Bulger ran from Boston, eventually spending 16 years on the run before he was tracked down in 2011 to sun-splashed Santa Monica, Calif. where he was living in a rent-controlled apartment with girlfriend, Catherine Greig.
Inside the walls of the apartment authorities found $822,000 in cash and a small arsenal of weapons collected by Bulger.
Wyshak told jurors that Bulger was long protected by corrupt elements of the FBI, but that federal law enforcement had shifted gears and was ready to prosecute him before went on the run. The result of Bulger’s run, Wyshak said, was that jurors heard during the trial about crimes that happened 20 or more years go.
“We are here in 2013 because that man ran away,’’ said Wyshak, pointing directly at Bulger. “Clearly this is a man who was hiding. ... This was a man who had a guilty conscience, and he hid.’’
He urged jurors to accept the testimony of government witnesses, even though decades have passed since what they witnessed took place. Those moments were seared into their memories by the intensity of the event, he said.
Bulger told the court Friday he would not testify in his own defense, saying he thought the trial was unfair and a “sham.”
Bulger’s story has gained worldwide attention over the years, inspiring numerous books, TV shows, and movies. His 16-year run from a worldwide manhunt, the revelations of FBI corruption, and his brother’s parallel rise in the political world stoked interest in the case.
Bulger has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is being held without bail.Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph. Milton J. Valencia can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia. John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.