Jurors overloaded with charts of Boston’s underworld hierarchy, gruesome crime scene photos, and stacks of FBI informant reports began deliberations Tuesday in the sweeping federal racketeering case against James “Whitey” Bulger.
The jury of four women and eight men spent 5 ½ hours sifting through evidence presented over the past eight weeks before adjourning for the day with instructions to resume deliberations Wednesday morning.
For all those who have been watching the trial day after day, the waiting had begun.
As jurors huddled in a room at the John Joseph Moakley US Courthouse, the daughters and a girlfriend of three of Bulger’s alleged victims sat on a bench outside, facing Boston Harbor, soaking up the sun and occasionally laughing as they shared memories of their fathers, who liked to cook, go boating, and watch Little League baseball games.
“Instead of being in there and looking at Whitey, we’re talking about the good stuff,” said Connie Leonard of South Boston. She expressed relief that the case is finally in the hands of the jury but was eager to remind people that photos of bullet-riddled bodies and skeletal remains shown during the trial were once vibrant men and women, beloved and missed by their families.
“My dad was handsome,” said Leonard, who was 4 when her father, Francis “Buddy” Leonard, was allegedly gunned down by Bulger in 1975. “He could cook. He could paint. He smelled like clean white T-shirts and English Leather.”
“My dad, too,” said Theresa Bond, smiling at the memory of Arthur “Bucky” Barrett, whipping up his favorite dish, lobster Provençal.
Karen Smith recalled boat rides and watching baseball games at Savin Hill Park in Dorchester with her father, Eddie Connors. “Wherever he was, I wanted to be,” said Smith, with her mother, Evelyn Cody, who was Connors’s girlfriend.
Jurors are weighing 32 counts against Bulger alleging he participated in a racketeering enterprise from the 1970s to the 1990s that raked in money from drug trafficking and extortion of bookmakers, drug dealers, and businessmen.
One of the racketeering counts alleges that Bulger committed 33 criminal acts, including 19 murders, six extortions, and conspiring to sell marijuana and cocaine. The slayings of Leonard and Connors in 1975 and Barrett in 1983 are among those in this count. US District Judge Denise J. Casper told jurors during a one hour and 40 minute instruction on the law Tuesday that they must reach a unanimous verdict on every count and all of the acts listed in the racketeering count.
By law, jurors only have to find Bulger guilty of two acts, which occurred within 10 years of each other, in order for him to be convicted of racketeering.
Brad Bailey, a Boston defense attorney and former prosecutor who has been watching the trial, said: “It’s a complex and deliberate process. Each and every charge has to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt before there’s a guilty verdict. You could have disputes over various counts. You could have folks taking their time. You basically have 19 mini-murder trials, which would give anyone pause.”
Jurors heard 35 days of testimony from 72 witnesses, including three of Bulger’s closest former associates: Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, Kevin Weeks, and John Martorano, who admitted their own involvement in murders and were given controversial plea deals in exchange for their cooperation with authorities against Bulger and corrupt FBI officials. The jury also heard from a corrupt FBI supervisor, John Morris, who admitted taking $7,000 in bribes from Bulger and Flemmi and leaking information to them.
Prosecutors presented evidence that Bulger was an FBI informant from 1975 to 1990 and that his corrupt handler, John J. Connolly Jr., leaked information that allegedly prompted Bulger and his associates to kill three FBI informants who were cooperating against them, an innocent bystander, and a potential witness.
The defense essentially put the government on trial as it focused on FBI corruption and argued that Bulger was never an informant, but rather paid agents for information. The defense also repeatedly pressed its assertion that Flemmi, not Bulger, killed two women, Debra Davis and Deborah Hussey, who are the only women among the 19 victims.
Bailey predicted that jurors will focus heavily on the evidence related to the killings of the women because the defense emphasized Bulger’s assertion that he did not kill them. He said jurors might spend little time on some of the other crimes, such as the conspiracy to distribute narcotics, because Bulger’s lawyers admitted in court that he raked in millions from drug trafficking.
“I think this is a case where the evidence certainly seems strong,” Bailey said. “They spent a whole lot of time on [the killings of the women], but there seemed to be a lot of concessions.”
Bailey said he would not be surprised if jurors return a verdict by Thursday, “but you never know.”
Leonard said she never thought Bulger would be caught and was nervous when she started attending the trial. She stayed away when jurors were shown photos of her father’s bullet-riddled body, then was horrified when they were posted on the Internet.
Still, she is grateful she had the chance to watch the trial and plans to be there for the verdict.
“It’s a loose end you didn’t know you had until you came,” said Leonard, adding she was not allowed to talk about her father’s killing for years because the people involved were still around the neighborhood.
“Now I can say it is liberating to watch [Bulger] without a gun. There he is sitting behind a table, waiting for justice that he gave nobody else.”
Bond, who has attended the trial every day but previously declined to talk to reporters, said that even though she believes Bulger killed her father and wants to see him convicted, she is angry at the government for protecting Bulger for so many years, covering up its own wrongdoing, and treating the families poorly.
“He’s a killer,” Bond said of Bulger, but added: “There are others to blame for allowing him to do what he’s done. Our fathers would be alive if people sent out to clean the streets weren’t compromised.”