There was the son whose father was gunned down inside a Medford coffee shop on the boy’s 14th birthday, the widow who knew something was wrong when her husband suddenly vanished, and the terrified gambler who was shot within an inch of his heart.
All three were called to testify Friday at the racketeering trial of James “Whitey” Bulger in US District Court as prosecutors brought more witnesses before the jury on the eighth day of testimony in an effort to show the human toll of the gangster’s alleged crimes.
“A firing squad hit us,” 78-year-old Frank Capizzi said, recounting what happened on March 19, 1973 after two acquaintances offered him a lift from a North End bar to his grandmother’s house. “For 2½ minutes, about a hundred slugs hit the automobile, and it imploded.”
Capizzi said he didn’t see the shooters but felt the bullets that pierced his body, one stopping close to his heart. “I had been hit in the head and felt warm blood running down my neck.”
The driver, Albert Plummer, was killed and another passenger, Hugh “Sonny” Shields, was critically wounded.
Academy Award-winning actor Robert Duvall, who is filming a movie in Boston, briefly attended the trial during the morning. When asked why he was there, Duvall said, “Just thought it was interesting, that’s all.”
His appearance caused a stir, even capturing the attention of Bulger, who generally does not look toward the spectator section. As the former gangster — dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a long-sleeved powder-blue shirt — was led into the courtroom by deputy US marshals, he glanced toward a row reserved for the public, where Duvall sat in a dark suit.
Bulger, 83, is charged in a racketeering indictment with participating in 19 killings, including Plummer’s; extorting drug dealers, bookmakers, and businessmen; money laundering; and building an illegal arsenal of guns. He is accused of running a sprawling criminal enterprise from 1972 to 2000, first as part of the Somerville-based Winter Hill gang and later setting up headquarters in his native South Boston.
Bulger was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., two years ago after more than 16 years on the run.
Earlier in the week, former-hit-man-turned-government witness John Martorano testified that he and other Winter Hill gangsters, including Bulger, had been gunning for a different man, Alfred “Indian Al” Notarangeli, when they ambushed Capizzi and the others.
The Winter Hill gang, said Martorano, was enlisted by New England Mafia underboss Gennaro “Jerry” Angiulo to kill Notarangeli because he had been encroaching on the Mafia’s gambling business and was suspected in the killing of one of Angiulo’s bookmakers.
Martorano said Winter Hill was tipped that Notarangeli was at a restaurant on Boston’s waterfront and thought they had him in their crosshairs when they followed the car driven by Plummer and opened fire on the occupants. Martorano said he and Howie Winter were the triggermen, while Bulger and other members of their gang were in a “radio” car, using walkie talkies to coordinate the attack..
Capizzi, a balding man with a white pony-tail, was a colorful figure on the witness stand. He drew puzzled looks from jurors when he announced that he suffers from “audio interruption,” a condition he said delays his ability to comprehend words because sometimes he hears them in “Sicilian” even when they are spoken in English. He often paused for a while before answering questions. Capizzi, who was born in Boston, is the son of Sicilian immigrants.
After surviving the shooting, Capizzi said, he quickly moved out of state and changed his named. “My wife and children were living in the throat of the dragon for 40 years without any help from anyone,” he told jurors.
Capizzi said he now writes screenplays and paints in oils and watercolors.
He was testifying under a grant of immunity, which prevented him from being prosecuted for anything he said, yet still balked at answering questions about his involvement in crimes.
During cross-examination by defense attorney J.W. Carney Jr., who sought to portray him as less than an innocent victim, Capizzi acknowledged that he was friends with Notarangeli.
Carney asked Capizzi whether he knew there were gang wars going on in Boston at the time. “The question would be, ‘Who didn’t know that?’ ” Capizzi said.
Notarangeli’s nephew, Joseph Angeli, testified Friday that he was in the eighth grade in April 1973 when his parents decided it was not safe for his family to stay in the Boston area, so his mother abruptly moved to California with him and his brother and sisters. His father stayed behind.
Days later, on Angeli’s 14th birthday, his father, Joseph Notarangeli, was shot to death in Pewter Pot cafe in Medford Square. Bulger is not charged in that slaying. Martorano, who served 12 years in prison for 20 murders in exchange for his cooperation with the government, admitted he killed Joseph Notarangeli while dressed in a white meatcutter’s coat.
The following year, Martorano shot Al Notarangeli.
The wife of another victim, James Sousa, told jurors Friday that he vanished in October 1974 after leaving her Cohasset home to meet Bill Barnoski, a Winter Hill gang associate.
“He didn’t call me, and I knew something was wrong,” Barbara Sousa testified.
Martorano told jurors that James Sousa was involved in the botched robbery of a dentist with Barnoski and a Winter Hill gang member, and after his arrest they feared he would cooperate with authorities.
They called Sousa to a meeting at the gang’s hangout, Marshall Motors in Somerville, where Martorano said he shot him in the head. He said Bulger arrived later and helped clean up because “the blood went everywhere.” He said other members of the gang buried Sousa, whose remains have never been found.