The foreman of the federal jury that found that James “Whitey” Bulger participated in 11 murders while running a sweeping criminal enterprise said Friday that the trial was more riveting than any Hollywood movie, with its cast of genuine gangsters, but that jurors never lost sight of the fact that it was about real victims.
“The victims and the victims’ families were always on our minds, and collectively we did the best we could to deliver them a verdict,” said Terry Fife, 49, a stay-at-home father, speaking about the case publicly for the first time in an interview at his Scituate home.
Fife said the most difficult part of the jury’s five days of deliberations was trying to reach a unanimous decision on each of the 19 slayings Bulger was accused of as part of a 32-count racketeering indictment that spanned several decades.
Ultimately, jurors found Monday that prosecutors failed to prove that Bulger participated in seven of the slayings and were unable to reach a verdict on whether he strangled 26-year-old Debra Davis, leaving many of the victims’ families frustrated and angry.
“It’s nothing against them; they are victims, their loved ones were murdered, we know that,” Fife said. “The unfortunate part was at the end of the day, on some of [the slayings] we could just not believe beyond a reasonable doubt Mr. Bulger was part of them.”
Fife and two other jurors spoke during separate interviews Friday after the court released the names of the 12 jurors and six alternates. The three said the panel worked diligently while deciding the fate of one of Boston’s most notorious figures, after hearing 35 days of testimony from 72 witnesses.
Bulger’s sentencing has been scheduled for Nov. 13-15 in US District Court in Boston.
Juror Peter Ferguson, 32, of Randolph said Friday that he did not find credible some of the government’s witnesses: Bulger’s former underworld associates and admitted killers themselves. He also did not believe that prosecutors presented enough evidence to support some of the murder charges against Bulger.
“The prosecution could have done a better job on certain things,” Ferguson said. “With different murders, we didn’t get a lot of evidence.”
Both Fife and Ferguson said jurors deliberated at length over whether Bulger strangled Davis in 1981, but the panel of four women and eight men was split, and it was clear they could never reach a unanimous decision on the slaying.
Bulger’s partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi said Bulger insisted they kill Davis, who was Flemmi’s girlfriend, because she was breaking up with him and knew the two gangsters were FBI informants. Flemmi said he watched while Bulger strangled her in a South Boston home, then they buried her along the banks of the Neponset River in Quincy.
But another Bulger associate, John Martorano, a former hitman who implicated Bulger in 11 slayings, said Flemmi told him that he had “accidentally” strangled Davis.
“I felt bad for the Davis family about the no finding, but it was better than not guilty,” Ferguson said.
Fife said he felt bad for the families of all the victims, including the family of Michael Donahue, who was gunned down by Bulger in 1982 while giving a ride home to the gangster’s intended target.
“She’s had to wait 30 years for justice,” said Fife, referring to Donahue’s widow, Patricia, who raised the couple’s three sons alone. “Those are the important people in this trial . . . the victims. Those are the people who matter.”
Juror Gusina Tremblay, 56, of Lowell said she tried hard not to look at the families sitting in the gallery. She wept when Diane Sussman de Tennen testified that she and her boyfriend were being driven home by a friend in his new Mercedes in 1973 when a gunman opened fire on the car. The friend, Michael Milano, was killed and de Tennen’s boyfriend was paralyzed. Martorano admitted he fired on the wrong car, mistaking Milano for a rival gang member.
“I just thought it was gangsters shooting gangsters,” Tremblay said. “I didn’t know . . . there were innocent victims being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Tremblay said de Tennen’s heartbreaking account of the shooting and its aftermath made her think, “Somebody please let me out of here.”
Other jurors were having a tough time, too, Tremblay said. One juror talked about how she went home one night and cried.
Another man confided that he had to apologize to his family for acting distant. They wanted to barbecue with him, and he just wanted to drink a bourbon and be by himself.
Fife said some of the jurors made tremendous sacrifices to serve on the jury, working weekends to pay bills and missing important family events, like funerals, weddings, and graduations, he said.
Jurors heard Martorano, Flemmi, and former Bulger protégé Kevin Weeks nonchalantly describe how Bulger allegedly chained men to chairs and interrogated them before shooting them in the head, strangled two women with his bare hands, and killed those who crossed him. Flemmi testified that he and Bulger were longtime FBI informants, protected by corrupt FBI agents who took payoffs from them.
Bulger, 83, who ignored most witnesses as he scribbled notes on a yellow legal pad, traded obscenities with Weeks as jurors watched in awe.
“This was way better than the movies,” Fife said. “These were the real guys. . . . The cast of characters that came walking through that courtroom door and onto the witness stand each and every day, it was captivating.”
It was also sobering and at times horrifying, he said. Jurors were shown gruesome photos of bullet-riddled bodies and skeletal remains unearthed from secret graves.
Once they were in the deliberation room, Tremblay said, they had to detach their emotions from the facts. “You just have to step back and realize that feelings and facts are not one and the same,” she said.
Fife said the most difficult part of the trial was sorting through the evidence regarding each of the slayings. Jurors had to deliberate 32 counts against Bulger and make findings on 33 acts, including the 19 murders, listed under one of the racketeering counts. Fife said he was proud of the jurors “for their sacrifice and their commitment to conscientiously doing the right thing, and that was not easy to do.”
Fife said he did not think about Bulger’s notoriety, instead focusing on the fact that he was just a defendant.
“He just sat there and really didn’t pay attention to much of what was going on,” said Fife.
Fife said he wasn’t disappointed that Bulger did not take the stand.
“I know there are those who probably would have wanted to hear what he had to say, but at that point in time I don’t think it mattered whether he spoke or not,” Fife said. “I just didn’t need to hear from him. At that point in time, I don’t think he would have helped himself.”