Defense lawyers, in their final words to jurors Monday, portrayed him as a victim of government corruption and scheming former associates. To prosecutors, he is a “murderous thug” who terrorized the city for decades.
On Tuesday, the jurors will begin deciding the fate of James “Whitey” Bulger after 35 days of testimony by 72 witnesses and six hours of closing arguments.
Bulger, 83, is “one of the most vicious, violent criminals ever to walk the streets of Boston,” Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak told jurors Monday in a voice that occasionally cracked with emotion during his 3½-hour closing.
He ridiculed defense lawyers’ efforts to paint Bulger as a gangster with a code, who barred heroin from his South Boston neighborhood, even as they conceded that Bulger raked in millions of dollars from extortion and from dealing marijuana and cocaine.
“This is not some Robin Hood story about a guy who kept angel dust and heroin out of Southie,” Wyshak said.
Bulger’s lawyers aggressively attacked the government for cutting lenient plea deals with three former associates who admitted to participating in gruesome and unprovoked murders and blamed Bulger for their crimes.
“I ask you to find strength in the oath you took,” J.W. Carney Jr., one of Bulger’s lawyers, told jurors. “You have the power to stand up to government abuse.”
Bulger, who was captured in 2011 in Santa Monica, Calif., after 16 years on the run, is charged in a sweeping racketeering indictment with participating in 19 murders, as well as the extortion of bookmakers, drug dealers, and businessmen. He is also charged with money laundering and stockpiling high-powered weapons, including six machine guns.
He faces life in prison if found guilty. On Friday, Bulger told US District CJudge Denise J. Casper that he would not testify, calling the trial a sham.
From day one, his defense made the tactical decision to concede Bulger was responsible for many of the lesser charges. But his lawyers contended he did not commit several of the murders and spent much of their time trying to prove something that was not part of the indictment: Bulger was not an FBI informant; instead, he paid his handlers for information.
This assertion was a centerpiece of their case, despite a hefty file that indicates Bulger provided information to the FBI from 1975 to 1990.
For 2½ hours Monday, Carney and Hank Brennan argued the government’s key witnesses — John Martorano, an admitted hit man; Kevin Weeks, Bulger’s protégé; and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, Bulger’s partner — were liars.
They contended that the government gave them lenient plea deals and in exchange, the men pointed their fingers at Bulger.
In exchange for his cooperation, Martorano served only 12 years in prison after admitting to 20 murders. Weeks served five years in prison after admitting to being an accessory in five murders.
Flemmi is serving a life sentence for 10 murders and has implicated Bulger in all of them. He was spared the death penalty in exchange for cooperating against Bulger.
“The government is buying the testimony of these witnesses,” Carney said. “The currency that’s being used here? How much freedom [are the witnesses] going to get?”
But Wyshak argued Monday that cooperation by Martorano and Weeks helped prosecutors build a case against Bulger and Flemmi and several corrupt FBI agents, helping to solve a string of murders and leading to the remains of six victims.
“It’s not whether you like the witness; nobody likes these people,” Wyshak said. “They are the most reprehensible people to walk the streets of Boston.”
However, he said, Bulger was “the boss,” the one who orchestrated murders, strangled women, shot men in the head after chaining them to chairs, and shoved guns into the faces of extortion victims.
The defense focused particularly on exculpating Bulger in two murders, those of Debra Davis and Deborah Hussey. Bulger’s lawyers argued that Flemmi had the motive to kill Davis, his girlfriend who was leaving him, and Hussey, whom he raised like a stepdaughter until he started molesting her as a teenager. Bulger’s lawyers contend that Flemmi was lying when he testified that he watched as Bulger strangled the women.
Wyshak reminded jurors that they only need to find that Bulger participated in the killings to find him guilty.
The defense tried to keep the focus of the trial on government corruption, rather than Bulger’s alleged murders.
Brennan told the jury that the FBI was so determined to eliminate the Mafia that it forged relationships with killers, including Flemmi, who was an informant beginning in the 1960s, and developed a strategy in which “the ends justifies the means.”
In the 1970s, Brennan said, FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. fabricated Bulger’s informant file and falsely credited him with providing information against the Mafia.
The defense contended that Connolly was taking bribes from Bulger and was trying to cover up their corrupt relationship.
Connolly is serving a 40-year sentence for his role in the 1982 murder of a Boston businessman in Florida.
But Brennan said that Connolly, who previously served 10 years in prison for warning Bulger to flee before his 1995 indictment, has been made the scapegoat of a corrupt Department of Justice.
“This is about the government covering up its own liability,” Brennan said. “This government needs to be held accountable.”
Wyshak told jurors that Connolly leaked information to Bulger that allegedly led to the slayings of three FBI informants, an innocent bystander, and a potential witness.
Bulger told his associates that Connolly leaked information to him because he wanted to protect him as a favor to his brother, William, the former president of the Massachusetts Senate and the University of Massachusetts, according to testimony from Martorano. Connolly grew up in the same South Boston housing development as the Bulgers and had been mentored by William Bulger.
Wyshak told jurors that Connolly “cared more about his relationship with James Bulger and William Bulger than he did about doing his job.”
The prosecutor criticized the defense’s effort throughout the trial to dispel the fact that Bulger was an informant, rather than addressing the charges in the indictment.
“He cares more about his reputation as an FBI informant than his reputation as a murderous thug,” Wyshak said. “Don’t forget that it’s James Bulger on trial here today.”