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Kevin Cullen

At Bulger trial, a FBI apology made out of guilt

Not long after listening to someone once connected to the federal government apologize to her family for getting her husband murdered, Pat Donahue was sitting at a table in the cafeteria of the federal courthouse, mixing granola into yogurt.

“It’s a little late, wouldn’t you say?” she asked me.

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Michael Donahue, her husband, the father to her three boys, was murdered 31 years ago, just a few hundred yards down Northern Avenue from the courthouse where Whitey Bulger is on trial for that murder and 18 others.

Donahue was murdered, a civil court found, because an FBI supervisor named John Morris told Bulger’s FBI handler, John Connolly, that a hoodlum named Brian Halloran was shopping Whitey to the FBI. Connolly told Bulger, that court ruled, and Bulger and another man raked Donahue’s car with gunfire as he drove home Halloran, a friend from the neighborhood.

Morris sat in the witness box Monday and turned to Pat Donahue and her boys — Michael Jr., Shawn, and Tom — and apologized for getting Michael Donahue killed.

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“Not a day goes by that I don’t pray that God gives you blessing and comfort for the pain,” Morris said. “I do want to express my sincere apology for things I did, and I didn’t do. I do not ask for forgiveness. That’s too much. But I do acknowledge it publicly.”

Morris trotted out his well-worn tears for the courtroom audience. Later, as she stirred her yogurt, and chose her words, Pat Donahue didn’t doubt his sincerity.

“Oh, I think he’s sincere,” she said. “But I sincerely believe he is mostly sorry that he got caught. The apology is an afterthought. I think he feels guilty. Living with that guilt is his punishment.”

Tommy Donahue was standing in back of us, nursing a Red Bull during the morning recess.

“Look at my hands,” Donahue said. “Look how red they still are. I had to twist my hands listening to Morris. I wanted to scream ‘Apology not accepted!’ But I knew they’d throw me out of the courtroom. So I just bit my tongue. And twisted my hands.”

His girlfriend, Michelle, rubbed his back.

“And another thing,” Tom Donahue said, “why do we have to have Whitey Bulger’s defense get this guy to apologize?”

It was under the questioning of Hank Brennan, one of Whitey’s lawyers, that Morris apologized. I guess the defense liked it because it showed the sniveling Morris for the pathetic man he is, someone corrupted by fine wine and short money.

But, of course, that sort of sidesteps the part that the civil court already found, that Whitey Bulger murdered Michael Donahue.

“Let’s not forget that,” Mike Jr. said, sitting next to his mother. “It’s all well and good what the defense did, but they are defending a guy who murdered my father.”

Whitey did more than murder Michael Donahue. He murdered his reputation, spreading the lie that Donahue was mobbed up, that he was a criminal partner of Halloran, that he was with Halloran the night in 1981 that Halloran and a Mafia guy named Jackie Salemme shot a drug dealer named George Pappas dead in a restaurant in Chinatown. It was a scurrilous lie, repeated by FBI agents to slander Donahue and his family, to make his murder somehow more acceptable because, well, it’s just wiseguys killing wiseguys.

The Justice Department treated the Donahues like dirt, refusing the late Judge Reginald Lindsay’s plea to settle with them, to admit complicity in Donahue’s murder, to apologize. The Donahues eventually won, then the Appeals Court took it away on a technicality, ruling they should have sued their government a year sooner, even though that government lied to them.

It is wrong to establish a hierarchy of victimhood, but surely no one in this sordid saga has been treated worse than the Donahues. Their shabby treatment continues to this day, John Morris’s weasel words notwithstanding.

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