In an anticlimactic end to testimony in his seven-week racketeering trial, James “Whitey” Bulger announced Friday that he would not take the stand, frustrating the families of his alleged victims who have waited decades with questions that only he could answer.
Bulger, who had repeatedly vowed to testify after his capture two years ago, blamed his change of heart on the judge’s refusal to let him tell jurors that a now-deceased federal prosecutor had promised him immunity for all crimes, past and future, including murder.
“As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t get a fair trial, and this is a sham,” the 83-year-old gangster told US District Judge Denise Casper, before jurors returned from a morning break. “Do what you want with me. That’s my final word.”
“You’re a coward!” Patricia Donahue, the widow of a man whom Bulger allegedly shot to death, shouted from the spectators’ gallery, packed with relatives of many of the gangster’s 19 alleged victims.
The suspense had been building as defense lawyers waited until the last of 72 witnesses had appeared during 35 days of testimony to announce that Bulger would not testify.
While the jury remained outside the courtroom, Casper asked Bulger if he had made his dec
ision “voluntarily and freely.”
“I’m making the choice involuntarily,” Bulger said in a clear, calm voice as he stood before the judge, dressed in a long-sleeved navy shirt and jeans.
“I feel that I’ve been choked off from having an opportunity to give an adequate defense and explain about my conversation and agreement with [former federal prosecutor] Jeremiah O’Sullivan.
“For my protection of his life, in return, he promised to give me immunity.”
Bulger’s lawyers contended that O’Sullivan, the former head of the New England Organized Crime Strike Force, offered Bulger unexpired immunity decades ago.
But Casper barred the immunity defense, ruling that Bulger had offered no documentation to support his assertion and that even if O’Sullivan had made such a promise, he had no authority to do so. O’Sullivan died in 2009.
Bulger’s claim Friday that he protected O’Sullivan’s life marked the first time he had offered an explanation of why he may have been offered immunity. Bulger insists he was never an informant, despite a hefty FBI file detailing information he gave about Mafia rivals and other underworld figures from 1975 to 1990.
In past interviews with the Globe, Bulger’s corrupt former FBI handler, John J. Connolly Jr., credited the gangster with warning him that local Mafia members were stalking O’Sullivan in the 1980s and knew the route he walked from work to the commuter train. Connolly said he passed that information to O’Sullivan.
Minutes after Bulger announced he would not take the stand, jurors were ushered back into the courtroom. Bulger lawyer J.W. Carney Jr. told them: “The defense calls no further witnesses, and we rest at this time.”
Jurors are expected to hear closing arguments Monday, and begin deliberations Tuesday.
Bulger, who was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., two years ago after more than 16 years on the run, is charged in a sweeping federal racketeering indictment with participating in 19 murders in the 1970s and 1980s, extortion, money laundering, and stockpiling guns.
His victims include three FBI informants allegedly killed after Connolly warned him they were cooperating with the FBI.
Donahue, whose husband, Michael, was allegedly killed by Bulger in 1982 while giving a ride home to his intended target, Edward “Brian” Halloran, said she was disappointed that Bulger did not testify and expose more about his corrupt relationship with the government.
“If you think you had an unfair trial, then stand up and tell all,” Donahue said. “I thought at least he would be man enough to get up there and tell how he feels.”
But Carney said outside the courthouse: “We just did what we could to help Jim Bulger make the right decision, for him. It was his decision alone to make, not his lawyer’s, not his family, not anyone else.”
Retired State Police colonel Thomas Foley, who spearheaded the Bulger investigation, said he probably did not want to face what would have been a blistering cross-examination.
“I think the prosecution team would have tuned him up if he did take the stand,” Foley said. “There would have been no way to explain 30 years of his crimes.”
The government rested last week after presenting 63 witnesses, and the defense called nine witnesses and briefly recalled former hit man John Martorano, who had testified earlier for the prosecution.
The defense attempted to bolster its contention that Bulger did not kill Debra Davis or Deborah Hussey, who are among his 19 alleged victims.
On Friday, Martorano testified that Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi told him during a phone conversation in 1981 he had accidentally strangled Davis, who was his girlfriend.
Flemmi, Bulger’s longtime partner, testified earlier in the trial that Bulger insisted on killing Davis, 26, because she was breaking up with Flemmi and knew the two of them were informants. Flemmi said he watched while Bulger strangled her.
In an eerily similar slaying, Flemmi said he watched in 1985 as Bulger strangled Hussey, 26, who was like a stepdaughter to Flemmi and was the daughter of his girlfriend, Marion Hussey.
After the judge advised jurors that Marion Hussey was too ill to testify at Bulger’s trial, Carney read them transcripts of testimony she gave in two prior cases in which she recounted how Flemmi had sexually abused the younger Hussey.
Bulger’s lawyers offered the testimony as evidence that Flemmi was hostile to Deborah Hussey and had a motive to kill her.
Before testimony began Friday, Carney said Bulger would not oppose forfeiture of $822,000 seized from him if the government agreed to give it to the Donahue and Halloran families.
Both families had won judgments against the government because of the FBI’s mishandling of Bulger and Flemmi, but an appeals court overturned the awards, saying the suits were filed too late.
The courts have dismissed other lawsuits by victims on the grounds they were not filed in a timely fashion.
Prosecutors wrote Friday that they will ask the jury to approve forfeiture of the money, then work with the victims’ families to distribute the funds, noting that it is not up to Bulger “to decide who gets to keep his ill-gotten gains.”
Patricia Donahue and her three sons were startled by Bulger’s effort to steer some of his seized money to them.
“He thinks he’s Robin Hood, and he thinks this is a good gesture he’s trying to make,” she said. “Tell Whitey to get the key to the safe deposit boxes and give it to my family,” said her son Tom.