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Kevin Cullen

A lesson in civics and justice

I went to a sentencing at federal court Tuesday and a civics lesson broke out.

Call it the mauling of a moll.

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Judge Douglas Woodlock defended Cathy Greig’s dignity.

Then he gave her eight years and a $150,000 fine for having spent “16 years of extended banality’’ on the run with a sociopath named Whitey Bulger, the gangster and FBI informant who buried more people from Southie than Casper Funeral Home.

I’m guessing it was easier for Cathy to take the insults than to contemplate a sentence that will have her collecting Social Security when she gets out.

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Woodlock tried to place the sentencing of Whitey Bulger’s girlfriend in its proper historical perspective. He wanted this to be a teaching moment. But then teachers can’t always control the classroom.

The Bulger saga, Woodlock explained, is a textbook case of what’s wrong with a criminal justice system controlled by insiders. The ultimate insiders, in this case the FBI, decided that Whitey Bulger could help them, so they turned a blind eye to Bulger’s murderous crimes. Meanwhile, he said, the insiders who administer justice - lawyers and judges - insist it is delivered in a proportionate, dispassionate manner.

While Cathy Greig wasn’t charged with being Whitey’s accomplice in anything but his flight, Woodlock said it was important that Bulger’s victims, the ultimate outsiders, got a chance to speak.

As he noted that some victims have run up against a Justice Department determined not to pay for its mistakes, Patricia Donahue and her sons nodded from the gallery. Michael Donahue, dead these 30 years, was collateral damage in the FBI’s obsessive protection of Whitey Bulger and the Justice Department’s unconscionable defense of the FBI.

First to speak, Timmy Connors got up on what was the 37th anniversary of the day that his father, Eddie, was gunned down in a phone booth in Dorchester by Whitey Bulger.

“You’re as much a criminal as Whitey,’’ Connors told Cathy Greig, who did not turn to look at any of the victims.

Connors said the only time Greig had ever shown emotion was at an earlier hearing when mentioning her brother David, who committed suicide in 1984.

“If I had a sister like you,’’ Connors said, “I would have killed myself, too.’’

It was a shocking, uncomfortable moment. Cathy covered her mouth and cried. Connors was followed by Steve Davis, whose sister Debbie was allegedly strangled by Whitey. Davis denounced Greig as a dirty rhymes-with-witch.

Woodlock was aghast and decried those comments as crude and cruel. They spoke to vengeance, not justice. Connors and Davis regretted nothing. But Paul McGonagle’s words, as civil as they were, hurt Cathy Greig even more.

Cathy was his aunt, married to his Uncle Bobby. She used to tell young Paul he was her favorite. As a boy, Paul went on vacations with Aunt Cathy. She wasn’t just his aunt; she was his friend.

But then Cathy ran away with the guy who is charged with the murder of Paul McGonagle’s father. Paul McGonagle was a 14-year-old boy when his father disappeared. He was 41 years old when his father’s remains were unearthed from one of Whitey’s shallow graves. For 27 years, he carried his father’s photo with him, hoping he’d spot him. It was a sentence much harsher than any Cathy Greig would face.

And the worst part, Paul McGonagle said, is that Cathy knew all along.

“Catherine Greig,’’ he said, “has shown herself to have a knowing and willful disregard for the law but also a callous disregard to me and my family.’’

Paul McGonagle and Pat Donahue didn’t insult Cathy Greig, but she insulted them and all of Whitey’s victims by never acknowledging them, by never saying sorry, by never even looking at them.

Kevin Reddington, Cathy’s lawyer, stood outside, saying his client had no intention of acknowledging people who call her names. Besides, how can she be contrite when she’s still in love with Whitey?

“She absolutely stands by her man,’’ he said.

He said this to a chorus of hovering TV helicopters. A chorus of Tammy Wynette would have been more appropriate.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.
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