Kevin Cullen

After the degenerates, a dignified widow

Pat Donahue arrived arrive At Moakley Courthouse with her sons, Shawn, Michael, and Tommy, for the trial of James “Whitey” Bulger on June 12.
David L Ryan/Globe Staff/File
Pat Donahue arrived arrive at the Moakley Courthouse with her sons, Shawn, Michael Jr., and Tommy, for the trial of James “Whitey” Bulger on June 12.

Before Pat Donahue took the witness stand Friday, there was yet another drug pusher up there, yada yada yada, talking about how Whitey Bulger shook him down.

Whitey pretended that he was responsible for shooting the pusher’s little brother, all part of an elaborate scam to have the pusher cough up money, which he promptly did.

Frankly, I’ve heard enough from drug dealers who got religion, not to mention immunity deals, to point the finger at Whitey. He’s toast anyway. His lawyers have already copped to most of the racketeering indictment, so the testimony of these assorted and sundry ne’er-do-wells is getting repetitive and monotonous.


And that’s why Pat Donahue taking the stand was refreshingly different. She is not a criminal. She is a lady. She raised her three sons alone after, a civil court has already found, Whitey Bulger and a second man raked Michael Donahue’s car with gunfire on the Southie waterfront in 1982, killing him and a hoodlum named Brian Halloran.

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So I was hoping someone would come in and change, or at least clean, the chair so Pat Donahue didn’t have to sit in the same spot as the degenerates who have peopled so much of this trial in federal court.

Pat Donahue and her three sons have been treated shabbily by their own government, and the legacy of that treatment was on display Friday because Whitey’s lawyers were more solicitous of her than even the prosecutors, who are conscious of minimizing the government’s duplicity in all that was Whitey Bulger, even as his lawyers want to play it up.

On a fine spring day in 1982, Michael Donahue popped into the Fields Corner hair salon where his wife worked.

She gave him a quick trim; he praised her skills, gave her a kiss and was out the door, promising to be home for dinner. He drove down to the waterfront, to pick up some bait. His 8-year-old son Tommy had just made his First Communion, and he was going to take Tommy fishing.


On Northern Avenue, Michael Donahue bumped into Halloran, a fellow Teamster truck driver, who grew up in Dorchester, the same neighborhood as the Donahues.

Halloran asked for a ride to his father’s house, and, after they shared a few pops at a waterfront bar, Donahue pulled up in front of the bar in the blue Datsun he borrowed from his father, a Boston police officer.

Michael Donahue had no idea that Halloran was marked for death because he had shopped Whitey Bulger to the FBI and Whitey’s corrupt FBI handler, John Connolly, had tipped Whitey off. Whitey, a civil court has already found, pulled up and, with a second, masked man in the back seat, opened fire, killing Halloran and Donahue.

Pat Donahue was cooking pork chops, expecting her husband home at any moment, when she saw on the TV in her kitchen the picture on the 6 o’clock news of her father-in-law’s car pocked with bullet holes.

The TV said one was dead, one was still alive. She called all the hospitals, but no one would tell her anything. The cops showed up four hours after the shooting. They raced her to the hospital.


“It was too late,” said Pat Donahue. “He had already died.”

When she got back home from the hospital, she sat her boys on the couch. Michael Jr. was 13, Shawn 12, Tommy 8.

“Daddy’s gone,” she told them.

FBI agents in Boston knew Whitey Bulger had killed her husband. They told her someone else did. One agent suggested her husband was killed because he was having an affair. It was a scurrilous lie, as was the claim that Michael Donahue had been the getaway driver for Halloran when Halloran was charged with shooting a cocaine dealer dead in a Chinatown restaurant in 1981. That lie was spread by Whitey Bulger, his gang, and their coconspirators in the FBI.

Prosecutor Brian Kelly’s questioning of Pat Donahue was basic, to the point.

But Whitey’s lawyer, Jay Carney, bent over backward to be nice to Pat Donahue because she served his purpose, keeping the focus away from his client and on the corruption, legal and moral, of the FBI and the Justice Department.

Carney harped on how little the Justice Department has done to expose the identity of the second gunman. Carney asked her if she believed the second gunman was Pat Nee, a Southie gangster who worked with Whitey before turning on him.

“Yes,” Pat Donahue replied.

When Carney asked her how much interest she had seen the government show in going after Pat Nee, Kelly objected, and Judge Denise Casper sustained the objection.

When Carney asked her how she felt about Kevin Weeks, the self-admitted lookout for the ambush that killed her husband, serving just five years in prison after becoming a government witness, she replied, “It made me sick.”

But Casper sustained Kelly’s objections to Carney’s attempt to elicit Pat Donahue’s opinions on the government’s shameful treatment of her and her family.

Still, Pat Donahue managed to sum up her family’s frustration quite well.

“I don’t understand why all these people involved in my husband’s death are still walking around,” she said.

Kelly got the last dig, however.

“You are aware that the man who did that shooting is sitting right here, James Bulger?” Kelly asked her.

“Yes,” she replied.

The focus remained on Whitey’s victims when Steve Davis took the stand. He recalled how his sister Debbie disappeared in 1981, and he always suspected that her boyfriend, Steve Flemmi, Whitey’s partner in crime, was responsible.

Flemmi kept coming to the Davis house and telling Olga Davis, the matriarch, that he was looking for Debbie. But Flemmi knew where she was. She was buried near the Neponset River bridge.

“Did you ever see your sister again?” prosecutor Zach Hafer asked.

“No,” Steve Davis replied. “Not until yesterday.”

He meant the photos of her remains that were put on a video screen the day before.

Carney asked Steve Davis if he wanted to say anything else about his sister.

“She was a beautiful young woman,” Steve Davis said. “She had no enemies. Except for two.”

Carney left it that. For some reason, the prosecutors didn’t ask Steve Davis to be specific, because if they had, he would have said those two enemies were Steve Flemmi, who admits he killed her, and Whitey Bulger, who denies it.

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