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The Boston Globe

Metro

Bulger lawyer wants confidential informant identified

James “Whitey” Bulger made a rare appearance in court Wednesday.

DAVID BUTLER/GLOBE STAFF

James “Whitey” Bulger made a rare appearance in court Wednesday.

A lawyer for James “Whitey” Bulger urged a judge Wednesday to order prosecutors to identify a confidential informant who asserted that two of the gangster’s former associates boasted that they would protect their criminal friends while cooperating with the government against Bulger.

Henry Brennan argued that the defense should be able to question the informant who told FBI agents that after Kevin Weeks and John Martorano struck deals with the government for leniency for their own crimes, the pair assured some of their underworld colleagues that they would not implicate them in any wrongdoing.

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In fact, Martorano, who served 12 years for killing 20 people, negotiated a plea deal in 1999 that requires him to testify against Bulger and corrupt law enforcement officials, but not against two well-known criminal associates: former Winter Hill Gang leader ­Howard T. Winter and former Bulger associate Patrick Nee.

Brennan said the allegations that the government’s key witnesses are protecting their friends were eerily reminiscent of a high-profile Boston case in which Joseph “The Animal” Barboza, a hitman turned government witness, framed four men for a 1965 gangland slaying, while protecting a friend who was involved.

“In this case, just like the way the government handled Barboza, there is information that exists that witnesses did not want to participate or ­include their friends in their testimony,” Brennan told ­reporters after Wednesday’s hearing in federal court in ­Boston. “And so we want to talk to people. We want to find out the truth.”

In court, Brennan accused Weeks of lying to protect an unidentified friend involved in murder.

During the hearing, Assistant US Attorney Brian T. Kelly said the defense was referring to Nee, who has not been charged with any murders. ­Kelly said that there was no evidence to charge Nee with a federal crime related to any slayings and that prosecutors do not plan to call him as a witness at Bulger’s upcoming trial.

Kelly argued that the confidential informant’s identity should be protected because the informant reported hearing “street talk’’ that Weeks and Martorano vowed to protect their friends, but had no first-hand information.

US District Judge Denise J. Casper took the matter under advisement.

Bulger, 83, who is being held at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility, made a rare court appearance, sitting quietly during the hearing. He is charged in a sweeping federal racketeering indictment with participating in 19 murders. Jury selection is scheduled to begin June 4.

Tom Donahue, whose father was allegedly gunned down by Bulger and an unidentified accomplice in 1982 while giving a ride home to the intended target, said he hopes the trial will resolve unanswered questions.

“These guys and their sweet deal that they got were able to pick and choose who they can rat on, you know, which is pretty disgusting to me,” Donahue said. “. . . Only the trial will bring the truth out.”

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com. ­Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.
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