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Kevin Cullen

Once a bully, always a coward

He told everybody who would listen that he’d get up on the witness stand and take on all comers. He wrote long, wounded letters from jail, talking about the FBI’s duplicity, boasting about how he couldn’t wait to get up there in the courthouse named after his old neighbor Joe Moakley and show up the government and its agents for the liars they are.

Whitey Bulger referred to his trial dismissively as “The Big Show,” and he was right because he played it like theater right up to the moment that his lawyer, Jay Carney, dramatically pulled the curtain to reveal . . . no one standing there.

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Pat Donahue, whose husband Michael, a civil court has already ruled, was murdered by Whitey Bulger, said it best, interrupting Whitey as he gave a mealy mouthed excuse for refusing to testify.

“You’re a coward!” Pat Donahue yelled.

“I said something else,” she told me later, “but you can’t print it in the newspaper.”

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Pat Donahue and the rest of Whitey’s victims were entitled to ask just what the last seven weeks were all about if in the end Whitey didn’t have the courage to explain himself.

I mean, really, what did Whitey have to lose? He knows he’s going down. His lawyer copped to most of the indictment in his opening statement.

But instead of being a man and facing the families he ruined, Whitey got up and whined like a spoiled child. He said the big, mean government wouldn’t let him persist in his delusion that a prosecutor named Jerry O’Sullivan gave him a license to kill.

When Judge Denise Casper asked Whitey if he had made the decision not to testify voluntarily, Whitey responded like the spiteful man he is.

“I’m making the choice involuntarily,” he said. “I feel that I’ve been choked off from having an opportunity to give an adequate defense.”

Given that Whitey stands accused of choking the life out of two women, let’s just stipulate that that was a poor choice of words.

Whitey babbled on about some story of how he promised to keep Jerry O’Sullivan from getting whacked by Mafia guys and O’Sullivan “promised to give me immunity.”

Whitey has clearly watched too many gangster movies. There’s no doubt the FBI protected him and even helped him kill people. But the idea that a federal prosecutor has the authority to grant a hoodlum the right to kill whomever he likes is so silly that it doesn’t deserve to be treated seriously. And so it was hard to take Whitey’s sense of grievance seriously.

“I didn’t get a fair trial,” he said, “and this is a sham, and do what yous want with me. That’s it. That’s my final word.”

Sort of appropriate that his final word would include a “yooze.” For all his literary pretentions, Whitey is a thug, and he talks like one.

As for Whitey’s complaint that he didn’t get a fair trial, I’d say it was lot fairer than the mock trials and summary executions he gave Bucky Barrett and John McIntyre, whose bodies he and his degenerate partner in crime Stevie Flemmi buried in a house just up the street from the homes of Whitey’s politician brother Bill and Flemmi’s elderly mom.

Tony Cardinale, an attorney who deserves credit for exposing the FBI’s Faustian embrace of the informants known as Whitey Bulger and Steve Flemmi, described Whitey’s performance as classic Whitey.

“He’s lying when he said he couldn’t say he got immunity,” Cardinale said. “He could have said that from the stand. He’s a liar.”

Which we already knew.

Frankly, we knew just about everything that came out over 31 days of testimony in this show trial. It was nice to learn that even Whitey doesn’t persist with the nonsense that he steered clear of the drug trade. His apologists had always claimed that Whitey “kept the drugs out of Southie.”

Hardly.

Billy Shea, who Whitey set up in the cocaine business, testified that he was paying Whitey $10,000 a week as Whitey’s pushers peddled poison up and down Broadway. Jay Carney acknowledged his client “Jim” made millions off drugs.

Whitey’s self-serving claims about why he refused to take the stand avoided some more obvious reasons. Whitey didn’t want to subject himself to cross-examination, when prosecutors Fred Wyshak, Brian Kelly, and Zach Hafer would have had him for breakfast.

Oh, let’s see, what would they have asked Whitey first? Maybe to explain how Whitey, the big patriot, got charged with rape while he was in the Air Force. Or, better yet, explain how in 1956 Whitey ratted out two of his accomplices in a string of bank robberies.

Whitey says he wasn’t a rat? Now that’s funny.

What’s not funny is what his victims had to endure. Whitey made one last stab at propagating his good bad guy image. Carney got up and said Whitey wanted to donate to the Donahue family the $822,000 seized from the rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica he shared with Cathy Greig for most of the 16 years he was on the run.

As if Whitey gives two whits about the Donahues. Like everything, it’s all about Whitey. Like everything else in his miserable, too-long life, the idea of him taking the stand in his own defense was a con.

Whitey’s trial wasn’t a sham. His life was.

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