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Kevin Cullen

John Martorano’s self-portrayal is grating

Hank Brennan, Whitey Bulger’s lawyer, didn’t waste words when he began his cross-examination of Johnny Martorano, murderer of many, witness against Whitey.

“Mr. Martorano,” he said, “you are a mass murderer, aren’t you?”

Score one for Hank Brennan and the defense.

Johnny demurred.

“You don’t like the term ‘hit man,’ do you, Mr. Martorano?” Hank said in his follow up.

“I wouldn’t,” Johnny sniffed, “accept money to kill somebody.”

I guess he wasn’t counting that 50 grand that his good pal John Callahan gave him for taking out Roger Wheeler, a legitimate businessman in Oklahoma who owned a jai alai fronton that Callahan coveted.


By the way, Johnny wants you to know that he “felt lousy” that he killed his buddy Callahan, too. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that Callahan felt considerably worse when Johnny put that .22 up to the base of his skull and pulled the trigger. Of course, it wasn’t Johnny’s fault. Whitey talked him into it.

Brennan asked Johnny if he felt bad about murdering 19-year-old Elizabeth Dickson and 17-year-old Douglas Barrett when the innocent teenagers were sitting in a car with a guy named Herbert Smith, who was marked for death because he gave a beating to Steve Flemmi, Whitey’s partner in crime and Johnny’s pal.

“You don’t want to admit you killed the young woman, do you?” Brennan asked.

“They were full grown and had hoods on,” Johnny replied.

He sounded like Whitey denying he killed Debra Davis and Deborah Hussey. Wise guys don’t like to admit they kill women.

“I still feel bad,” Johnny said, but his body language and his tone and attitude were totally unconvincing.

Frankly, I have more respect for the attitude of Paul Rico, the corrupt FBI agent who died while awaiting trial for helping to murder Wheeler, who Johnny shot in the face as Wheeler sat in his car in the parking lot of a Tulsa country club. When congressmen pumped Rico with questions about how he and other FBI agents helped frame four connected Italian guys for a murder they didn’t commit, Rico turned to his inquisitors with utter contempt and said, “Whaddya want, tears?”


As repulsive as Rico was, at least he didn’t claim he was, as Johnny did, “a nice guy.”

One thing that Hank didn’t ask Johnny that I wished he did was: When Whitey told Johnny and the rest of the Winter Hill Gang that they were all going to get indicted for race fixing, but that Whitey’s FBI handler, John Connolly, had somehow managed to extract Whitey and Stevie from the indictment, didn’t alarm bells go off?

Didn’t it occur to these rocket scientists that Whitey and Stevie got a pass because they were FBI informants?

I once asked Tony Cardinale, a great lawyer who has represented many a Mafioso and who did remarkable work in exposing the FBI’s sordid relationship with Whitey, why the Italians didn’t move on Whitey after the Globe outed him as an informant in 1988 and before Whitey went on the lam two days before Christmas in 1994.

Cardinale posed that same question to John Gotti, the Teflon Don; Jerry Angiulo, who ran the Mafia in Boston; and Fat Tony Salerno, who ran the Commission in New York, and when I say Fat Tony, I mean that in the nicest possible way. Cardinale said they all gave a variation of the same answer: The Mafia couldn’t believe the FBI would get into bed with someone as vicious and as vile as Whitey Bulger.


The only thing that Mensa and Mafia have in common is that they are five-letter words that start with M and end with A.

For the first time, in federal court Tuesday, Johnny portrayed Whitey as a shooter, explaining how he drove Whitey and Stevie over to Dorchester so they could rake a telephone booth where Eddie Connors was making a call to Howie Winter. Connors had to go, Johnny said, because he had been bragging about helping Winter Hill take out a small-time hood named Spike O’Toole, who was shot as he hid behind a mailbox in Savin Hill.

Still, Johnny said he only heard the shooting. He didn’t see it. He said Whitey and Stevie ran back to the car and announced the demise of Eddie Connors in the words of that old Grateful Dead tune, “He’s gone.”

My favorite moment Tuesday was when Hank Brennan asked Johnny Martorano to stop blaming other people for the murders he committed. Well done, Hank.

The prosecution had its moments, none better than showing that photo of Whitey in his gangsta suit, holding young James Stephen Martorano at the boy’s christening. It’s going to be hard for the defense to suggest Martorano wasn’t close to Whitey when that photo shows him holding Johnny’s progeny, named after Whitey and Stevie.


And the prosecution can always say that it was Johnny, not them, who implicated himself in all these murders. Of course, it was revenge, against Whitey, but they can point out, truthfully, that Martorano gave them murders they couldn’t solve without his testimony.

Still, listening to Johnny Martorano, his hands soaked in blood, talk about how swell he is takes its toll.

A few hours after Johnny finished testifying for the second day on Tuesday, punishing rains hit Boston, as they did Monday. It was almost as if some Higher Power was giving us all the shower we needed after listening to this guy.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.