After decades waiting for this moment, for a verdict that would convict the man who wrought so much havoc in their lives and their community, the families who long believed that James “Whitey” Bulger murdered their relatives experienced a mix of emotions Monday after a federal jury said some of his alleged killings were not proven.
The jury in US District Court in Boston found the crime boss and FBI informant guilty of all but one of the 32 counts against him, including two counts of racketeering and six acts of extortion, as well as narcotics distribution, money laundering, and illegal firearms charges.
But they said the prosecution had proven he committed only 11 of the 19 murders he stood accused of orchestrating. The murders were contained in one of the counts Bulger faced.
The verdict enraged William O’Brien, who blamed prosecutors for not spending enough time proving that Bulger killed his father, also named William, who was gunned down while driving on Morrissey Boulevard in 1973.
“My father just got murdered 40 years later, again, today in this courtroom,” he said. “That prosecution dropped the ball. . . . That jury should be ashamed of themselves.”
After more than 32 hours of deliberations over five days, the jury found prosecutors had proven Bulger killed 10 men and one woman, but returned a “no finding” in the murder of another woman and decided prosecutors did not prove that Bulger murdered members of the rival Notarangeli faction.
Patricia Donahue said she began to cry as the verdict was read and it became clear that the jury found Bulger had killed her husband, Michael Donahue, 31 years ago while he was giving a ride home to Brian Halloran, the intended target.
“I couldn’t hold my emotions,” she said. “I cried for myself. I cried for [the other families], because we are all in the same place.
“I feel relieved,” she added. “My husband is up there looking down on all the hard work and time we put in for him. I’m sure he appreciates that.”
Donahue said her family plans to continue pursuing a civil suit against the federal government for allowing Bulger to operate as an informant while he committed violence.
“One down, one to go,” Donahue said.
Tommy Donahue, her son, left the courtroom relieved and anguished.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said after the jury found Bulger killed his father. “But my heart also goes out to those families who were searching for that closure.”
It didn’t matter that Bulger was found guilty of enough charges to keep him in prison for the rest of his life, Donahue said. “When they got robbed, I feel that I got robbed as well,” he said. “He should have been guilty on everything, especially the murders.”
Like others, Donahue became concerned after the jury announced a series of “no findings” in the murder charges. “I was getting a little nervous,” he said.
But after the foreman read his father’s name, he said, “It was an overwhelming feeling.”
Donahue was dismayed by what the trial revealed about government corruption and the FBI deal that allowed Bulger’s reign of terror.
“The government needs to be [held] responsible; they need to be accountable,” he said. “The deceit of the FBI is the reason we are in this place right now.”
Frank Libby Jr., a Boston lawyer who represents relatives of Roger Wheeler, said now that Bulger has been found guilty in Wheeler’s slaying, the family is hoping for accountability from the FBI, which he accused of hiding “behind the technical defense of statute of limitations and shut the door on their fingers.”
“That government has never been called to account, never had to answer to the Wheelers, nor to many of the other victims’ families,” Libby said. “With the jury’s verdict today, sadly, only the FBI remains unaccountable.”
Connie Leonard, 41, of South Boston, wiped away tears as she stood outside the waterfront side of the courthouse, away from the gantlet of cameras, moments after the jury found that prosecutors failed to prove Bulger participated in the 1975 slaying of her father, Francis “Buddy” Leonard.
“It’s not a great day,” said Leonard, who was only 4 when her father was found shot to death inside a friend’s car. “It’s still an unsolved case. It’s not validated. It’s always going to be like he didn’t exist.”
Leonard said she didn’t blame the jury, because the witnesses — Bulger’s former associates who admitted their own role in murders — had tarnished credibility.
“They didn’t get anybody with any integrity” to testify about some of the slayings, including her father’s, Leonard said.
“It could be worse,” she said, adding that she was grateful the jury’s decision brought resolution for some of the families she has gotten to know while attending the trial and waiting for the verdict.
The jury found that Bulger killed Arthur “Bucky” Barrett in 1983, and his daughter, Theresa Barrett Bond, put her arm around Leonard, trying to console her.
“Some people did not get victory today, and some of us did,” said Bond, as three of her sons stood by her side. She, too, was unhappy that more corrupt FBI officials have not been prosecuted for letting Bulger get away with murder for years.
“There’s a lot more punishment to be dished out,” Bond said. “We’ll never have complete victory.”
Evelyn Cody, the longtime girlfriend of Eddie Connors, who was gunned down in a telephone booth on Morrissey Boulevard in Dorchester by Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi in 1975, said she was happy the jury had found Bulger responsible for that slaying.
“At least now we have got our justice,” Cody said. “Now, they [the victims] can rest. We can all rest.”
Steve Davis, whose sister Debra Davis was killed, was unhappy the jury reached “no finding” in his sister’s death, saying he is certain Bulger is guilty of taking part in her death. “It’s not over for me,” he said, adding, “It’s tough. But he is not going to be in the streets.”
Davis congratulated prosecutors for “giving a good fight.” If he had one question for Bulger, he said, it would be, “Why?”
“He had everything,” Davis said. “He had enough money that he could live on an island.”
As he stood before reporters outside the courthouse, he began to cry at the thought of bringing justice to his sister’s memory.
“She knows I’m a fighter,” he said. “The last man standing.”