Kevin Cullen

Another Kafkaesque moment in saga of FBI’s embrace of ‘Whitey’ Bulger

Pat Donahue was on the phone, incredulous not for the first time in this sordid, relentless mess.

“So what you’re telling me,” she said, “is that John Connolly is getting off on a technicality, that he is probably going to get out of prison because of the statute of limitations?”

Um, yes.


Thanks to a 2-to-1 decision by the Third District Court of Appeal for the state of Florida, John Connolly’s second-degree murder conviction was thrown out, not because he was innocent, but because he didn’t get caught soon enough.

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Just another Kafkaesque moment in the never-ending scandal that was the Faustian embrace of Whitey Bulger by the FBI.

One can forgive Donahue’s incredulity, her being utterly perplexed, frustrated, and sick to her stomach. Because it was on those same statute of limitations grounds, on an identical 2-to-1 vote by a federal appeals court in Boston, that Pat Donahue and her three sons were told to go pound sand when they tried to hold the FBI and the Justice Department accountable.

Michael Donahue — husband of Pat, father of Mike, Shawn, and Tom Donahue — was an innocent man, murdered in 1982 by Whitey Bulger because Whitey and his gang had to cover their tracks in a series of killings Whitey’s FBI handler, the aforementioned John Connolly, either put in motion or covered up.

The FBI intimidated, lied to, and ultimately smeared the Donahue family, and they got away with it because the Justice Department let them get away with it.


When the Donahue family sued their own government, demanding justice, that government dragged them through the mud for years before a federal judge awarded them $6 million on the grounds that John Connolly and the FBI set in motion a chain of events that inevitably led to Michael Donahue being cut to ribbons by a machine gun wielded by John Connolly’s informant, Whitey Bulger.

The First Circuit Court of Appeals threw out that award saying, literally, that the Donahues should have read the newspapers a little closer because if they did they would have figured out, before the two-year statute of limitations expired, that John Connolly and the FBI were letting Whitey Bulger murder people like Michael Donahue with impunity.

When the news broke Wednesday, the initial breathless accounts suggested the appeals court ruling was shocking and unexpected. But it wasn’t shocking and unexpected to the very few of us who were in the Miami courtroom for Connolly’s trial in 2008. It was very apparent then that jurors held their noses when they found Connolly guilty and engaged in some creative justice in their verdict.

The jurors — who, being from Miami, were quite used to corrupting criminals, corruptible cops, and gruesome murders by cartels who think nothing of dismembering people — were nonetheless flabbergasted by the procession of Boston-based degenerates the government used to build a case against Connolly in the 1982 murder of Boston businessman John Callahan.

Some of the degenerates were Whitey Bulger’s erstwhile criminal confederates, who cut deals and pointed the finger. Some of the degenerates were FBI agents who cut deals to nail Connolly or cut corners to save him.


It was at that trial that John Martorano, the actual gunman who murdered John Callahan, tried to portray himself as a standup guy. He suggested that the way he shot his friend John Callahan in the back of the head, after luring him to Florida, was done to minimize Callahan’s suffering.

Alas, John Martorano seemed less the humanitarian when it emerged that his accomplice, a complete sociopath named Joe MacDonald, opened the trunk into which they had stuffed Callahan and shot him repeatedly after hearing what he thought was a moan. Think of that scene in “Goodfellas,” when Joe Pesci feverishly stabs the guy they thought was dead in the trunk.

As Martorano ratted out Connolly and Bulger, a man for whom he murdered many, many people, he insisted he wasn’t a rat because Whitey and Connolly were rats and you can’t rat on a rat.

Martorano’s logic was tortured, his language ludicrous. It was like watching a Yogi Berra commercial.

But then, you sort of expect venal murderers like John Martorano to act like venal murderers. The cops didn’t look much better.

At Connolly’s trial in Miami, the FBI agents who helped Whitey stay a step ahead of the law came off looking like pathetic, soulless mopes.

John Morris, Connolly’s FBI supervisor, wept and talked about how he works in soup kitchens, apparently to assuage his feelings of guilt for being corrupted by Whitey Bulger for chump change and airline tickets for his mistress.

Tom Daly, who was an ancillary part of the corrupt clique of the FBI’s organized crime squad where Connolly was king and Morris was the hapless supervisor, chewed gum like a clueless thug on the witness stand. Asked what he did when one of his informants was murdered by Martorano after Connolly told Whitey the guy was working for the feds, Daly said, “Nothing.”

After listening to a parade of hoodlums and murderers and corrupt and craven FBI agents testify, the jury had no doubt about Connolly’s guilt. But they winced at the idea of convicting him of first-degree murder, as charged, especially after listening to the shameless Johnny Martorano freely admit to murdering Callahan and 19 others while being allowed to walk free after 12 years in prison in exchange for his testimony.

So the jurors cut a deal of their own, finding Connolly guilty of second-degree murder, on the grounds that Connolly was carrying a gun when the plan to murder Callahan was hatched.

But the gun was Connolly’s FBI-issued service revolver, so that legal maneuver always seemed like a stretch. Even the judge who presided over Connolly’s trial, Stanford Blake, expressed open skepticism about the legality of the verdict, even as he had no problem sentencing Connolly to 40 years in prison.

In the end, the appeals court in Florida agreed with Connolly and his lawyers that the four-year statute of limitations on the gun charge had expired 19 years before Connolly was charged with Callahan’s murder in 2005. The appeals court pointedly said it was not proclaiming Connolly innocent, just that the grounds used to convict him were not legally sustainable.

While there are many of Whitey Bulger’s victims, including the Donahue family, who believe that Connolly belongs in prison, there is a surprising well of sympathy for him, in his native South Boston and beyond.

There is even sympathy for Connolly in some law enforcement circles, the sense being that the 12 years he has done since his initial racketeering conviction is enough, that his family has suffered enough, that he was the only FBI agent held accountable when many others were implicated in taking cash from or helping Whitey, that Connolly only did what the FBI taught him to do and rewarded him for.

Connolly told my colleague Shelley Murphy that the hardest thing he ever had to do was sit his three young sons on the couch and tell them he was going to prison after he was initially convicted of racketeering in a Boston courtroom in 2002.

That is indeed a heart-wrenching thing to do, and it was more than sad that the Connolly boys grew up without their father around. But the Connolly boys will now get their father back, while the Donahue boys never will.

When, 32 years ago this month, Pat Donahue came back from the hospital after identifying her husband’s body, she, too, sat her three young sons down on the couch. She tried to explain that their father was never coming home.

Now, the same legal reasoning used to secure what John Connolly’s supporters consider justice was used to deny the Donahues justice.

“The law punishes the victims,” Pat Donahue ruefully concluded, “and rewards the criminals.”

Hell, Johnny Martorano could have told her that.

More coverage:

Appeals court decision (pdf)

2008: Connolly waits for sentence

2008: Connolly convicted

1998: Whitey & the FBI

Special section: ‘Whitey’ Bulger

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at