James “Whitey” Bulger was sentenced Thursday to two consecutive terms of life in prison by a judge who lamented his misplaced mythology in a city that has proven as resilient as Boston. Moments later, in his orange jumpsuit, Bulger gave his lawyer an awkward embrace and shuffled silently out of the public eye, possibly for good.
US District Judge Denise J. Casper said that Bulger’s crimes caused “unfathomable harm” and brought him infamy.
“You have over time and in certain quarters become a face of this city,” Casper said. “That is regrettable. . . . You, sir, do not represent this city.
“This year, 2013, with all that’s happened in this city, the city of Boston, both tragic and triumphant, you and the horrible things that were recounted by your cohorts during the course of this trial do not and should not represent this city.”
The reference to Boston’s resiliency after the Marathon bombings in April resonated among the families of Bulger’s murder victims, who packed the courtroom to mark the end of a decades-long battle for justice.
Bulger, 84, showed no emotion during the 45-minute hearing in federal court in Boston and stood silently as the judge sentenced him to consecutive life prison terms for participating in 11 murders, drug trafficking, racketeering, extortion, money laundering, and other crimes while running a sprawling criminal enterprise from the 1970s through the 1990s.
He was also ordered to pay $19.5 million in restitution to his victims and to forfeit another $25.2 million to the government. Prosecutors say they have seized about $1 million in assets from Bulger since his capture two years ago, including a $50,000 diamond claddagh ring and $822,000 recovered from his California apartment, and will distribute it among his victims’ families.
As Bulger was escorted from the courtroom, he did not look toward the spectator section, where his younger brother, John, sat alone in a row reserved for the gangster’s family.
Bulger’s other brother, William M. Bulger, the former Massachusetts Senate president, never attended the eight-week trial last summer and was at his South Boston home at the time of the sentencing. He peered from a second-story window, but did not answer when a Globe reporter rang his bell.
The victims’ families were tearful and euphoric as they spilled out of the courtroom Thursday, hugging each other and the Drug Enforcement Administration and State Police investigators who helped build the case against Bulger and saw it through to the end.
“It’s a good feeling,” said Tom Donahue, whose father, Michael, was gunned down by Bulger in 1982 while giving a ride home to a friend who was the gangster’s intended target. “I never thought it would come. Finally, my dad can be at peace.”
Some relatives got into an angry confrontation with one of the Bulger jurors who said she regrets her verdict and has been corresponding with the former crime boss.
The juror, Janet Uhlar, criticized the judge’s decision to let relatives of eight murder victims speak during a sentencing hearing Wednesday, even though jurors found that prosecutors failed to prove Bulger was involved in those slayings.
“You should keep your . . . nose out of it,” Steve Davis, whose sister Debra Davis was strangled in 1981, shouted at Uhlar. “She hasn’t lost a family member.”
The jury foreman, Terry Fife, who also attended Thursday’s sentencing, said he was upset by Uhlar’s remarks and was confident that Bulger had a fair trial. “We did our job and did a good job,” he said.
Bulger’s sentencing marks the end of a saga that has stretched over many years. He fled Boston shortly before his 1995 racketeering indictment. While he was a fugitive, his corrupt relationship with the FBI was exposed in court proceedings and congressional hearings. Secret graves of his victims were unearthed, and he was charged with 19 murders and became a fixture on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list.
The former South Boston crime boss was captured in June 2011 in Santa Monica, Calif., where he had been living in the same rent-controlled apartment with his girlfriend for 15 years.
In August, jurors found that Bulger participated in 11 of 19 murders, including the strangulation of Deborah Hussey; the assassination of Tulsa businessman Roger Wheeler; and the slayings of Edward Connors, Paul McGonagle, Thomas King, Richard Castucci, Edward “Brian” Halloran, Michael Donahue, John Callahan, Arthur “Bucky” Barrett, and John McIntyre.
Jurors found that prosecutors failed to prove that Bulger participated in seven additional killings, those of Michael Milano; Al Plummer; William O’Brien; James “Spike” O’Toole; Al Angeli, who also went by Notarangeli; James Sousa; and Francis “Buddy” Leonard. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on whether Bulger killed Debra Davis.
Bulger’s lawyers say they plan to appeal the verdict on the grounds that he did not get a fair trial because he was prevented from presenting his claim that a deceased former federal prosecutor gave him immunity for his crimes decades ago.
The defense spent much of the trial trying to refute the FBI’s admission that Bulger was an informant from 1975 to 1990. His lawyers said FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. fabricated Bulger’s informant file to cover up the fact he was taking bribes from the gangster and leaking information to him.
Outside the courthouse Thursday, defense lawyer Hank Brennan said the US Justice Department has focused its attention on Bulger and one FBI agent while failing to hold others accountable for systematic corruption involving the former crime boss.
“Who guards the guards at the end of the day?” Brennan said. “Who focuses on the responsibility of the Department of Justice that prosecutes and investigates. . . . We all know there is much, much more.”
Vincent Lisi, who recently took over as special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, said, “I realize the actions of a small percentage of law enforcement many years ago caused some people to lose faith and confidence in us. We will continue to move forward, and our job now is to make sure that we can regain the faith and confidence of those people who may have lost it years ago.”
Assistant US Attorneys Fred Wyshak Jr., Brian T. Kelly, and Zachary Hafer, who prosecuted Bulger, said his corrupt relationship with law enforcement officials was thoroughly investigated while he was a fugitive. They said that if Bulger knows more, he could have exposed it before or during the trial, yet he never took the stand.
DEA agent Dan Doherty and State Police Lieutenant Steve Johnson doggedly pursued Bulger for years, and they said Thursday that they felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction knowing that he will spend the rest of his life behind bars. “For 30 years, he was a control freak; he controlled everything,” Doherty said. “It’s got to be difficult for him not to be able to control anything he does.”
Bulger still faces murder charges, in Florida in the 1982 slaying of Callahan and in Oklahoma in the 1981 slaying of Wheeler.
A Florida prosecutor said Thursday that authorities have yet to make a decision on whether to bring Bulger to trial, and Oklahoma authorities did not respond to calls for comment.
Callahan’s son, Patrick, attended Bulger’s sentencing and said he had no opinion on whether he should be prosecuted in Florida, but Callahan said he opposes the death penalty.
“He’s in jail forever — that’s it, he’s gone for life,” Callahan said. “He’s been found guilty of my father’s murder [in Boston]. That’s good enough for me.”
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