If Whitey Bulger gets into the witness box Friday, here’s the first question prosecutors should ask on cross-examination: Mr. Bulger, did you really think submitting a photo of you yukking it up with a pedophile priest would make you come across to the jury as somehow less of a reprehensible degenerate?
Hey, who knows? Maybe Whitey thought having jurors see him swanning around with Monsignor Fred Ryan made him look better in comparison.
Fred Ryan was so bad that even the Archdiocese of Boston defrocked him. That’s pretty bad. Back in the day, they usually just sent predators like him to seaside parishes, as if the salty air would somehow make them less inclined to rape children.
In Whitey’s defense — ha! never thought I’d type those words — he might not have known Ryan was a pervert.
His lawyers didn’t. They only found out when Pat Donahue, widow of Michael Donahue, one of the 19 people Whitey is charged with murdering, clued them in.
“Hey,” Pat Donahue told Jay Carney, Whitey’s lead counsel, after testimony wrapped on Thursday. “That priest in the photo with Whitey is a pedophile.”
Jay Carney’s eyes went very wide.
Honestly, I feel for Carney and his cocounsel, Hank Brennan. They’ve tried their best, but they’ve been trying to build an ice sculpture with warm sand. They have nothing to work with.
That’s why Carney copped to most of the indictment from the get-go. He admitted in his opening statement that Whitey was a gangster, an extortionist who made millions from shaking down drug dealers. Carney is hoping jurors will give Whitey the benefit of the doubt on the few charges he vehemently denies.
In hindsight, while prosecutors successfully limited the defense, what was the harm in letting Whitey’s lawyers try to convince the jury that Whitey had been given a license to kill by the conveniently dead federal prosecutor Jerry O’Sullivan?
It would have at least given Carney and Brennan something to work with. Instead they’ve been reduced to pointing out to the jury that most of the prosecution’s star witnesses are murdering thugs.
Unfortunately for the defense, that only reminds the jury that all these murdering thugs worked for Whitey.
We’ll find out Friday whether Whitey is a man of honor, as he claims. He has said all along he was going to testify. In the jailhouse letters my colleague Shelley Murphy and I used in our book about Whitey, he told his old prison friend Richard Sunday that he couldn’t wait to get up in the witness stand and refute the charges against him.
Most of all, Whitey wants to deny that he was an informant for the FBI and that he killed the two Debbies: Debra Davis and Deborah Hussey. Whitey spent his entire criminal career writing a narrative that portrayed him as a gangster with scruples, and a gangster with scruples doesn’t rat out his friends and strangle women and bury them in hidden graves.
“I’ll be very disappointed if he doesn’t testify,” Pat Donahue told me, and her sons Mike Jr., Shawn, and Tommy nodded in agreement.
“He says he wasn’t a rat,” she said. “Well, here’s his chance to explain himself. He can also tell us who was in the car with him when they shot my husband.”
If Whitey does testify, he can explain some of those other photos his lawyers submitted, especially the ones of him holding all the soft, furry animals. Whitey always liked animals more than people. He is charged with shooting several people in the head, then lying down to take a nap. But when he was on the run, he couldn’t watch a puppy being put down in Louisiana. He turned away, and when the shot rang out, Whitey Bulger wept.
If Whitey doesn’t have the guts to testify, we should all weep. Because we paid for this dog-and-pony show and learned just about nothing. And if the families of his victims don’t get to hear from him, he’s cheating them yet again.Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.