James "Whitey" Bulger's lawyer launched into a blistering cross-examination Monday of Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, attempting to undermine the credibility of the man who was once Bulger's partner in crime and is now a pivotal witness against him by focusing on Flemmi's sordid relationship with a young woman who was slain.
With just 15 minutes to start the cross-examination, lawyer Hank Brennan painted Flemmi as a perverted liar, saying it was Flemmi, not Bulger, who strangled 26-year-old Deborah Hussey in 1985.
Flemmi grudgingly admitted he raised Hussey like a daughter and then had sex with her, yet insisted he passively watched as Bulger strangled her.
Hussey was a toddler when Flemmi moved in with her mother, Marion. The girl called him Daddy as he raised her along with three children he had with her mother.
"Is it hard for you to accept the fact that you strangled somebody who sat on your knee as a little girl?" Brennan asked.
"I didn't strangle her," replied Flemmi, looking distressed.
"This little girl who would call you Daddy is the same little girl just a decade later that you'd start abusing sexually, wasn't it, Mr. Flemmi?" Brennan asked.
"I didn't inflict any abuse on her," said Flemmi, testifying that he never had intercourse with Hussey, but they did have oral sex when she was older. "That was consensual."
Bulger, 83, has vehemently denied killing Hussey or Debra Davis, also 26, the only female victims among 19 people he is accused of helping to murder. The slayings are part of a federal racketeering indictment that also charges Bulger with extortion, money laundering, and illegal gun possession.
Flemmi testified last week that Bulger strangled Davis, who was Flemmi's girlfriend, because she knew they were FBI informants and was ending her relationship with Flemmi. He is expected to face more cross-examination Tuesday in US District Court in Boston.
Earlier in Flemmi's testimony Monday, Davis's brother Steven, seated in the spectator section, screamed "That's a [expletive] lie," when Flemmi testified that he believed Steven Davis used drugs or may have been an informant.
"There's no testimony on me being a rat, you piece of [expletive]," an irate Davis yelled.
"I inadvertently made a mistake," Flemmi stuttered, casting aspersions on another Davis brother who was not in the courtroom. "I said it wasn't you that I was referring to."
Judge Denise J. Casper warned Davis, "I need you to be respectful of these proceedings, OK?. . . You can remain here if you can do that. OK?"
Davis remained for a few more minutes before briefly leaving as he struggled to regain his composure. Later, outside the courthouse, Davis said he owed the judge an apology but was livid at the suggestion he was an informant because "I'd take a bullet before I'd ever incriminate anyone."
Bulger has also denied that he was an FBI informant, but Flemmi has contradicted that, identifying numerous FBI reports that he said contained information that he and Bulger had provided against Mafia members and South Boston associates.
Flemmi, who is serving a life sentence for 10 murders and has implicated Bulger in all of them, said he returned to Boston after five years as a fugitive in 1974 to find that Deborah Hussey, a teenager, was using drugs and living with her boyfriend.
"I thought I could help her," said Flemmi, adding that he sent her to a drug rehabilitation program. He said she frequented the Combat Zone, Boston's adult entertainment section, and stole $800 from a bookmaker.
Flemmi said Hussey started causing trouble at Triple O's, a South Boston bar frequented by Bulger, who warned him: "Keep her out of there. It's embarrassing. She's become a problem."
During questioning by Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak, Flemmi did not reveal that Hussey had told her mother that he began molesting her when she was a teenager, prompting her mother to kick Flemmi out of the Milton house they shared.
Flemmi said Bulger wanted to kill Hussey and he reluctantly agreed. He said he brought her to a South Boston house, where Bulger and two associates, Patrick Nee and Kevin Weeks, were waiting.
Bulger "stepped out from behind the top of the basement stairs, grabbed her by the throat, and started strangling her," Flemmi said. "He lost his balance, and they both fell on the floor."
Flemmi described Hussey as a "fragile" woman and said she died quickly. He denied previous testimony from Weeks, who said Flemmi wrapped a rope and a stick around Hussey's neck after Bulger strangled her because he thought she was still breathing.
While Bulger took a nap, according to Flemmi, he and Weeks buried Hussey's body in the dirt basement, alongside the remains of Arthur "Bucky" Barrett and John McIntyre.
Flemmi, offering an account that matched Weeks's earlier testimony, told jurors that Bulger shot Barrett in the head in 1983 after extorting money from him, then shot McIntyre to death in 1985 because Bulger learned McIntyre was cooperating with the FBI and US Customs agents.
Flemmi said he was upset when Bulger shot Barrett in the back of the head because he was standing in front of him "right in the line of fire. . . . The bullet could have gone through him and hit me."
After the slaying, Flemmi said he used pliers to pull Barrett's teeth to hamper efforts to identify his remains. He said the pliers were a gift to Bulger from his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, a dental hygienist who later would go on the run with Bulger. She is serving an eight-year prison term for helping him evade capture.