James “Whitey” Bulger’s defense moved to shift the jury’s focus from the gangster to one of his chief accusers Tuesday, relentlessly attacking the credibility of a hit man-turned-government witness who they say has cast himself as an honorable vigilante.
Under sharp questioning, John Martorano, the first of Bulger’s former underworld associates to testify at Bulger’s racketeering trial in US District Court, insisted he was not a serial killer or a hit man despite killing 20 people, including a businessman he shot between the eyes.
“Serial killers kill until they got caught or stopped,” said Martorano, 72, testifying that he stopped on his own and later confessed to the slayings. “A serial murderer kills for fun; they like it. . . . I didn’t like doing any of it. . . . I never had any joy at all.”
Henry Brennan, one of Bulger’s lawyers, mocked Martorano. With rapid-fire questions laced with sarcasm, Brennan suggested that Martorano lied when implicating Bulger in 11 slayings in order to secure a deal with the government. Martorano served 12 years in prison in exchange for his cooperation.
The questioning was part of the defense’s strategy to discredit Bulger’s accusers, some of whom, like Martorano, received plea deals.
Martorano, testifying for the second day, said Bulger was one of the triggermen who killed Edward Connors, a local tavern owner, inside a telephone booth on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester in 1975. Martorano said he dropped off Bulger and his partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, and waited in the car. He said he heard gunshots, then the two returned and announced, “He’s gone.”
It was the first murder in which Martorano has identified Bulger as a shooter. He testified that Bulger, a fellow member of the Somerville-based Winter Hill Gang, was involved in 10 other slayings as a driver, accomplice, or part of the team that orchestrated them.
Martorano said he was enlisted by Bulger and other gang members to kill two men, one an FBI informant and the other a potential witness, after Bulger was tipped off by corrupt FBI agent John J. Connolly that the pair posed a threat to them.
Bulger, 83, was captured two years ago in Santa Monica, Calif., after more than 16 years on the run. He is charged in 32 counts of a racketeering indictment that alleges he participated in 19 slayings in the 1970s and 1980s; extorted drug dealers, bookmakers, and businessmen; laundered money; and kept an arsenal of illegal guns. Bulger rarely glanced at Martorano, who testified they last saw each other in 1982.
In an effort to show just how close they once were, prosecutors showed jurors a photo of a smiling Bulger cradling Martorano’s infant son at his christening. Martorano told jurors that Bulger was godfather to the baby, named James Stephen after Bulger and Flemmi.
But the defense challenged Martorano’s credibility.
Brennan cast doubt on Martorano’s claim that in 1968 he accidentally shot two teenagers who were huddled in a car with Martorano’s intended target during a blizzard, noting that Martorano claimed he could not see them because they wore hoods. But police reports indicated they did not have hoods. Martorano also asserted that he stabbed one of his victims four times, yet Brennan said an autopsy revealed the man had been stabbed about 20 times.
Brennan ridiculed Martorano for depicting himself as a vigilante on “60 Minutes” in 2008. Martorano said a vigilante means “somebody that would hurt somebody that was doing wrong.”
“That makes you a vigilante, like Batman?” Brennan said.
Martorano said most of the murders he committed were favors for people close to him, because he had learned as a child from his parents, priests, and nuns that friends and family come first.
“Is there any honor and integrity in what you did?” Brennan asked.
“I thought so,” Martorano said.
“I always try to be a nice guy,” he said. “If somebody was in trouble, I would try to help them.”
Martorano said it was Bulger’s idea to kill Tommy King, a South Boston gangster, in 1975 by telling him they were getting together to kill someone else. When King arrived wearing a bulletproof vest, Martorano said, he shot King in the back of the head, and others buried him.
Martorano said he later learned King’s remains were near the Neponset River bridge because whenever they drove over it Bulger joked, “Tip your hat to Tommy.”
Martorano testified that the Winter Hill gang decided to kill Richard Castucci, a Revere nightclub owner, after Bulger said Connolly, the FBI agent, warned him that Castucci was an informant who had revealed where a fugitive member of their gang was hiding.
After arranging for Castucci to pick up a gambling debt in December 1976, Martorano said, he walked into a Somerville apartment where Castucci was counting the money and shot him in the temple.
Martorano, who fled Boston in 1978 to evade a federal race-fixing indictment, testified that he was a fugitive in Florida when his friend, John Callahan, a Boston accountant and a “wannabe gangster,” asked him to kill a Tulsa businessman.
Callahan, former president of World Jai Alai, feared the company’s new owner, Roger Wheeler, would discover he was skimming from the company. Martorano said he agreed to kill Wheeler after Flemmi told him that he and Bulger were “on board” with the plan.
A retired FBI agent, H. Paul Rico, who was director of security for World Jai Alai, provided Callahan with Wheeler’s tee time at a Tulsa country club, said Martorano.
As Wheeler climbed into his car in May 1981 after a round of golf, Martorano said, “I opened the door and shot him . . . between the eyes.”
Callahan was so happy, said Martorano, he paid him $50,000. He said he did not kill for the money, noting, “He was a friend of mine. I would have done it for nothing.”
The following year, said Martorano, he learned that Bulger had killed Callahan’s friend, Edward “Brian” Halloran, in Boston, after learning Halloran was cooperating with the FBI and had implicated Bulger, Flemmi, and Callahan in Wheeler’s slaying.
Martorano said Bulger and Flemmi told him they had to kill Callahan because Connolly had warned them that the FBI planned to question him.
According to Martorano, Bulger said Connolly told him that Callahan “is going to get so much pressure on him he’s going to fold . . . if he does fold we’re all going to go to jail for the rest of our life.” Martorano said he “felt lousy” about killing Callahan, but Bulger and Flemmi insisted.
Martorano said he lured Callahan to Florida in 1982, picked him up at the airport, then shot him in the back of the head.
The next day, he and McDonald left Callahan’s body in the trunk of his car at Miami International Airport, and spread his wallet and other belongings in the Cuban section of Miami to throw off investigators.