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James ‘Whitey’ Bulger team builds its defense

In the third day of presenting their defense, lawyers for James “Whitey” Bulger sought to bolster their claims that the notorious gangster never killed women and was falsely branded an informant by a corrupt FBI agent.

James Crawford, one of two retired FBI agents called to the stand in Bulger’s racketeering trial Wednesday, testified he met with the distraught mother of Debra Davis after the young woman vanished in 1981.

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Crawford said Olga Davis said she feared that her daughter had been killed by her boyfriend — Bulger’s partner Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi — because she was leaving him for another man.

“She thought she was possibly murdered,” Crawford said. He said he checked flights, but could not find a trace of the 26-year-old Davis, whose remains were recovered in 2000 in a grave along the banks of the Neponset River in Quincy.

Earlier in the trial, Flemmi testified that Bulger insisted on killing Davis because she knew that the two of them were FBI informants and said he watched as Bulger strangled her. Bulger’s lawyers said he did not kill two women, including Davis, who were among his alleged victims. They called Crawford to show that Flemmi had a motive to kill Davis.

Crawford also testified that a woman who was close to Flemmi and did not want her identity revealed for fear of her safety warned him Flemmi planned to kill Winter Hill gang associate Edward “Brian” Halloran because he knew he was wearing a wire and cooperating with the FBI against him.

“The purpose of the meeting was she wanted to pass on information to someone she trusted,” Crawford said.

He said he reported the information to superiors, yet days later in 1982 Halloran was gunned down. Michael Donahue, an innocent bystander who was driving Halloran home, was also killed.

Halloran and Donahue are among Bulger’s alleged victims. A former Bulger protege testified earlier that Bulger shot the men after they left a South Boston bar.

Bulger is charged in a sweeping racketeering indictment that alleges he committed 19 murders.

Steve Davis, Debra’s brother, said outside the courthouse Wednesday that he now believes his mother may be the person who provided the information about Halloran to Crawford during their meetings about his missing sister.

“Every day it’s like getting hit with a sledgehammer,” Steve Davis said. “The whole pain is coming back again.”

Bulger’s lawyers have called four witnesses and said they plan to call their final eight witnesses over the next two days.

“That may not be the limit to the defense,” said one of Bulger’s lawyers, J.W. Carney Jr., suggesting that Bulger, 83, may take the stand, but refusing to confirm.

Richard Sunday, a longtime friend of Bulger’s who has received letters from him since his capture two years ago, said the gangster has “always preached he wanted his day in court” and vowed to tell his story and clear his name.

Former Bulger associate Patrick Nee will not have to testify.

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Former Bulger associate Patrick Nee will not have to testify.

“If he doesn’t testify about what he knows, the world will know he’s a rat,” Sunday said in a brief telephone interview.

Also Wednesday, Fred Davis, a retired FBI agent who served in the Boston office from 1979 to 1984, testified he found an unusual “paranoia” among agents who feared that information from their informants was being leaked.

Davis said he complained to a supervisor that agent John J. Connolly Jr., who was Bulger’s handler, was constantly going through his squad’s files and told the supervisor to “keep him out.”

He said that while working as the informant coordinator in 1979, he reviewed Bulger’s file and concluded it was “worthless” because he was not providing much information.

However, Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak pointed out in cross-examination that Bulger was closed as an informant from 1978 to 1979 while being targeted in a race-fixing investigation, and Davis conceded that could account for his “thin file” during that time.

The defense says Connolly fabricated the file, containing information from Bulger from 1975 to 1990, to cover up their corrupt relationship.

Earlier Wednesday, US District Court Judge Denise J. Casper rejected Bulger’s request to call one of his former associates, Patrick Nee, to the stand, after Nee indicated he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Steven Boozang, Nee’s lawyer, said after the hearing that Casper found that his client could legitimately raise his Fifth Amendment right and that Bulger was clearly trying to “inject Mr. Nee in the middle of his trial.”

“It’s become readily apparent that this is not a legal defense, but a client-run defense,” Boozang said.

Late Wednesday, Bulger’s lawyers filed a series of photos chronicling his life that they may ask Casper to let them present as evidence to jurors.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at MValencia@
globe.com
. Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@
globe.com
. Follow them on Twitter @Shelleymurph and @MiltonValencia.
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