James J. “Whitey” Bulger, the notorious gangster who rampaged through Boston’s underworld for decades before fleeing and eluding a worldwide manhunt for more than 16 years, participated in 11 murders, a federal jury found today as it handed down its verdict in a racketeering case that had riveted the city.
A jury of four women and eight men returned to US District Court in Boston with their verdict this afternoon after 32 1/2 hours of deliberations over five days, bringing a resounding end to Bulger’s decades of evading justice. They found Bulger guilty of 31 of the 32 counts he faced.
“So many people’s lives were so terribly harmed by the criminal acts of Bulger and his crew. … Today’s conviction does not alter that harm, and it doesn’t lessen it,” said US Attorney Carmen Ortiz. “However, we hope they find some degree of comfort in the fact … that Bulger is being held accountable for his horrific crimes.”
“I think justice prevailed,” said Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak, adding that Bulger would spend the rest of his life in prison. “It’s a vindication of the hard work by the lawyers and investigators who pursued this for 20 years.”
After the verdicts were announced, the 83-year-old Bulger gave a thumbs-up sign to family and pointed at them as he was led out of the courtroom. The daughter of one of his victims shouted at him, “Rat-a-tat-tat, Whitey!” referring to the way he had described the killing of her father in a recorded jailhouse conversation that was played at the trial.
Bulger’s attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., said Bulger intended to appeal the case, arguing that he should have been allowed to claim he had immunity for his crimes. Carney also said Bulger was “very pleased” with the outcome of the trial because he felt the case had exposed government corruption.
“Mr. Bulger knew as soon as he was arrested that he was going to die behind the walls of a prison …. or be injected with a chemical that would kill him. … This trial was never about Jim Bulger being set free,” said Carney.
Bulger extended his reign of terror under a cloak of protection from the FBI, which prized his work as an informant. Corrupt agents fed him tips that he used to kill rivals and fellow informants. Bulger denied he was a “rat,” but that contention was belied by his voluminous FBI informant file.
His story inspired books, movies, and TV shows as the FBI named him one of America’s “Ten Most Wanted,” and as the corruption of FBI agents was revealed. Another twist in the tale was the parallel rise in the political world of his brother William to become president of the Massachusetts Senate, one of the most powerful politicians in the state.
The trial, however, laid to rest any romantic Hollywood notions about James Bulger as a Robin Hood figure. Witnesses described a scheming, sinister presence and a brutal killer whose victims included young women he strangled and innocent bystanders he riddled with bullets. Bulger took naps after murdering people and joked as he drove past the secret sites where he had buried them, according to witnesses’ testimony.
Cheryl Connors, daughter of victim Edward Connors, who yelled out at Bulger in the courtroom, said she had seen Bulger standing up and thought, “No, you’re not going out smiling.”
“I just wanted to have the last word,” she said. Bulger had made a similar sound, imitating a machine gun, when talking about the 1975 killing of Edward Connors in a conversation with his niece and nephew last year at the jail. In the conversation, which was recorded by jail officials, Bulger didn’t actually admit the killing but bantered lightly about it.
Bulger’s brother, John Bulger, ignored reporters’ questions as he left the courthouse.
While the jury found Bulger responsible for 11 of 19 murders he allegedly committed, the jury said the charges were not proved for seven of the murders, and they could not reach agreement on one charge.
That left some of the relatives of Bulger’s alleged victims bitterly disappointed.
Bill O’Brien, son of William O’Brien, who was allegedly killed by Bulger in 1973, was devastated by the jury’s finding that the prosecution did not prove Bulger’s responsibility for his father’s murder.
“My father just got murdered 40 years later, again today in this courtroom. That prosecution dropped the ball. Five minutes they spent talking about his murder. That jury should be ashamed of themselves,” O’Brien said.
The murder that the jury could not reach an agreement on was that of Debra Davis, who was 26 when she was killed in 1981.
Steve Davis, Debra Davis’s brother, said he continued to be certain that Bulger was guilty of conspiring and taking part in her slaying.
“It’s not over for me,” he said. He added: “It’s tough. But he is not going to be in the streets.” Davis congratulated the prosecutors for “giving a good fight.”
Patricia Donahue, widow of Michael Donahue, an innocent bystander who was gunned down by Bulger in 1982 when he gave Bulger’s intended target a ride home from a bar, said she was happy with the verdict but felt sympathy for other victims’ families.
“I think there was justice today for me, maybe not for some other victims,” she told reporters outside the courthouse. “It’s been a long time coming.”
Tom Donahue, son of Michael Donahue, said the thumbs-up sign Bulger gave in the courtroom “goes to show you what kind of sick loser he is. ... It goes to show you what type of dirtbag he really is.”
The verdict in a trial that Bulger had dubbed “the Big Show” came after jurors heard 35 days of testimony from 72 witnesses, followed by six hours of closing arguments. Jurors did not hear from Bulger, who had vowed before the trial began to take the stand, but told the judge he would not testify because he believed he did not get a fair trial and it was “a sham.”
Bulger, who was captured in sunny, seaside Santa Monica, Calif., in June 2011, was charged with participating in a racketeering enterprise from the 1970s to the 1990s that raked in money from drug trafficking and extortion of bookmakers, drug dealers, and businessmen.
The centerpiece of the indictment, a racketeering charge, alleged that Bulger committed 33 criminal acts, including 19 murders and six extortions, and conspired to sell marijuana and cocaine.
Jurors only had to find him responsible for two of the criminal acts alleged under the racketeering count in order to find him guilty of that charge. They found him responsible for 22 of the acts, including the 11 murders.
Sentencing in the case was set for Nov. 13.
Bulger came to US District Court in Boston every day dressed in jeans, sneakers and a long sleeved shirts in an assortment of colors. Most of the time he appeared as an innocuous elderly man, bent over a legal pad, taking notes, barely glancing at most of the witnesses.
However, he showed flashes of his infamous temper when he traded obscenities with the notorious fellow gangsters he once fraternized with, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, Kevin Weeks and John Martorano.Martine Powers, Meghan E. Irons, Jonathan Saltzman, and Michael Levenson of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.