Poor Hank Brennan. He is Whitey Bulger’s lawyer and he did his level best to shame Johnny Martorano in federal court Wednesday. But you can’t shame someone who is shameless. And Johnny Martorano, admitted murderer of 20 people, is nothing if not shameless.
Still, you’ve got to give Hank Brennan credit for trying. He did a pretty good job roughing up our Johnny, one of the prosecution’s star witnesses. He showed Johnny Martorano to be more than a murderer. He showed him to be an opportunistic phony who cast his decision to cooperate with the government as some noble gesture to help find justice when it was really a craven, vindictive act of self-preservation by a man who cares not a whit about the dead but only sticking it to the very much alive Whitey Bulger.
Johnny insists, and the government agrees, that he volunteered the information that put him and Whitey and Whitey’s partner-in-crime Steve Flemmi in a bunch of murders and that in doing so he exposed himself to much more time in prison than if he had been charged with racketeering.
Which is true, up to a point. But 12 years in a cushy prison crib for 20 murders is not exactly doing hard, or long, time. Whitey’s defense is making much hay out of the sweet deals Martorano and Kevin Weeks, Whitey’s henchman and gravedigger who did five years, got in exchange for putting Whitey in those 19 murders he’s charged with.
Brennan argued the feds let Martorano dictate the terms of his deal, so that he’d testify against Southie wiseguys he didn’t even know while being able to avoid turning on his brother Jimmy or his friends Pat Nee and Howie Winter.
But Johnny fought back. He said he knew who the wiseguys were. He said he knew Jackie Curran was Whitey’s driver, that Kevin O’Neill was a bookie, that Kevin Weeks was Whitey’s right-hand man.
“Did you ever lie, Mr. Martorano,” Hank Brennan asked.
Martorano didn’t miss a beat. “Not that I know of.”
Not that I know of? Now that was a good answer.
But Johnny looked perplexed when Hank asked him if he kowtowed to Whitey when they were in gang life together. Johnny looked lost, like Nigel, the guitarist from “Spinal Tap,” when he was told that the name of their album “Smell The Glove” was sexist, not sexy.
Johnny thinks kowtow is one of those Chinese joints on Route 1 in Saugus.
Brennan nailed Johnny when he got him to talk about how he has made money since being released from custody.
“Are you remorseful, Mr. Martorano?” Brennan asked.
“Yes,” Johnny replied.
But, Mr. Martorano, you wrote a book with Howie Carr and made money off the blood of your victims, Hank Brennan suggested. You split the $110,000 advance for the book with Carr, Mr. Martorano.
“Did you think what the victims would think when they see the book ‘Hitman,’ Mr. Martorano?” Brennan asked. “How that made them feel when you were getting your check? You knew it would hurt people?”
“It was a book,” Johnny replied, “trying to make a living.”
“How much money from this book did you give the victims’ families?” Brennan asked.
“None,” Martorano said.
Then Brennan talked about the movie rights Martorano sold for $250,000. “What will the movie be about?” Brennan asked. “Other than the 20 people you killed, is there anything notable about your life?”
Johnny shrugged. He later suggested that an informer is the worst thing you can be, worse than killing 20 people.
Brennan did a good job in making Martorano look like a fool as he recounted how he stabbed to death some guy named John “Touch” Banno.
Johnny killed the guy because he embarrassed Johnny with his date at the old Sugar Shack nightclub. Johnny says Touch came at him in an alley with a knife so he took the knife away from him and stabbed him with it.
Then Johnny comes up with this baloney about throwing the guy into his car so he could take him to the hospital. On the way, the guy started mouthing off again, so Johnny said he stabbed him a couple of more times and killed him.
Brennan said the autopsy report indicated that Touch Banno was stabbed some 20 times. Johnny disputed the number of stab wounds.
“I say two, three, four, maybe a couple more; I don’t know,” Johnny said from the witness stand. “Because he wouldn’t shut up.”
Then he left Touch Banno’s body not at a hospital but in an alley in the South End.
Johnny insisted he wasn’t a liar. But Brennan noted that Johnny smiled at his good friend John Callahan when he picked him up at the airport in Fort Lauderdale just minutes before he shot him. Wasn’t he misleading his friend about what he was about to do?
“I think anybody who has to kill somebody has to lie,” Perfesser Martorano explained. “I just wanted to get him in the car.” Which Johnny had lined with towels and plastic sheeting so his friend John Callahan’s brains and blood wouldn’t stain the carpet in his van.
Now, that’s a friend.
“I always try to be a nice guy,” Johnny Martorano said.
A nice guy who murdered at least 20 people, including a 19-year-old woman, a 17-year-old boy, a legitimate businessman from Oklahoma, and one of his best friends.
Johnny left the witness stand Wednesday after three days of fairly effective testimony, even though Hank Brennan left him bloodied. Of course, Hank only left him figuratively bloody. Johnny left his victims covered in real blood.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.