Fred Weichel, a South Boston man who has spent more than 32 years in prison for a murder he says he did not commit, has found an unlikely ally in an ongoing court battle to get his conviction overturned. That ally: James “Whitey” Bulger.
In a series of letters sent from jail last fall, Bulger — who is familiar with the 1980 murder because he acknowledges playing an indirect role in it — wrote that the real killer was an unnamed close friend of Weichel, not Weichel himself.
“I will not reveal his name — can’t do that against my standards — can only hope he would be brave enough to come forth,” Bulger wrote to an unidentified supporter of Weichel.
The victim was Robert LaMonica, 25, who worked at the Boston Water and Sewer Commission.
The eight letters, handwritten in neat cursive by Bulger between September and October 2013 when he was being held at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility were sent to Norfolk Superior Court for filing late Friday by Weichel’s lawyers in support of a motion to overturn his conviction that has been pending since last year. Weichel’s lawyer shared a copy of the filings with the Globe.
The 84-year-old gangster, who never testified at his own trial last summer and is serving two life sentences for participating in 11 murders in the 1970s and 1980s, offered to give Weichel’s lawyers a tape recorded statement under oath.
But he warned it should be done soon, “just in case I have heart attack — have had many EKGs & days in hospital Heart Murmur — AFIB — Heart Damage Valve — talked operation no way.”
In the letters, Bulger described meeting at Triple O’s bar in South Boston decades ago with a young boxer, who was Weichel’s “pal.” The boxer confided that he was scared because he had badly beaten a man in a street fight and now the victim’s friend — LaMonica — was vowing revenge.
“He wanted my advice,” wrote Bulger. “ ‘What would I do’ I told him get him first, kill him . . . if you don’t get him first I’d say he will get you — he’s dangerous — so again kill him and it’s over. And also never — never repeat this conversation to anyone — my only warning — you know what will happen if you do — he understood.”
LaMonica was gunned down outside his Braintree apartment shortly after midnight on May 31, 1980. Weichel, now 62, was convicted the following year, largely on the eyewitness testimony of a teenager who briefly saw a gunman jump into a waiting car and identified Weichel as the shooter.
Attorney Michael D. Ricciuti, a partner in the Boston law firm K&L Gates, who is representing Weichel for free with assistance from the New England Innocence Project, said Bulger’s lawyers have not responded to his request for an interview.
In Weichel’s third motion for a new trial, the defense claims the prosecution failed to turn over a Braintree police report during Weichel’s 1981 trial that suggested another man had been identified as a possible suspect in the slaying.
On Friday, the defense also submitted a letter to the court that the Braintree police chief wrote to the Norfolk district attorney last September, saying that after reviewing the case he believes the eyewitness identification of Weichel was unreliable and he has serious concerns about whether he was guilty.
In January, Norfolk Assistant District Attorney Marguerite T. Grant urged the court to deny Weichel’s request for a new trial, arguing that defense claims do not even warrant a hearing. She defended the prosecution’s handling of the case and the validity of the eyewitness identification and argued that Weichel’s conviction was just.
It is unclear what impact, if any, Bulger’s jailhouse letters will have on the case.
“I don’t know if the judge is going to believe Whitey Bulger,” LaMonica’s 87-year-old mother, Marie, said in a brief telephone interview with the Globe. “Do you think he’s going to tell the truth?’’
Marie LaMonica said she remains convinced that Weichel shot her son and the only injustice is that the man suspected of driving the getaway car was never charged. She said her son was marked for death because he came to the defense of a father of twin boys who was being beaten and kicked into the gutter by Thomas Barrett, a former friend of Weichel’s from South Boston, as Weichel watched.
In documents accompanying Bulger’s letters, Ricciuti wrote that although the gangster uses code words and refers to LaMonica’s alleged killer as “La” or “un-named,” the defense understands he is referring to Barrett. Weichel’s defense lawyers say LaMonica was killed by Barrett and another man, who is now dead.
In 2004, a judge granted Weichel a new trial on the basis of a 1982 letter Barrett purportedly wrote to Weichel’s mother, confessing that he had killed LaMonica. During hearings before the judge’s ruling, Barrett refused to testify about the letter, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
But in 2006, the state Supreme Judicial Court overruled the judge who had ordered the new trial. The court wrote that Weichel was not entitled to a new trial because he had made a calculated decision not to release the letter years earlier, so it was not considered new evidence. Weichel said he had held the letter back because Bulger had warned him not to implicate Barrett.
Separately, in court filings last year, Weichel’s lawyers said three of Bulger’s closest former associates — Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, Kevin Weeks, and Patrick Nee — claimed that Bulger urged his FBI handler, then-agent John J. Connolly Jr., not to tell authorities that he saw Weichel in a Boston bar some 15 minutes before LaMonica was shot to death miles away in Boston.
In the letters, Bulger denies doing anything that would have kept Barrett from being implicated and insists he never warned Weichel not to identify Barrett.
Bulger portrays himself in his letters as a man of honor who has been demonized by lying former associates and disparaged LaMonica. The gangster wrote that LaMonica showed up at the South Boston club that Bulger frequented “all dressed up shirt tie & suit & shoes shined” and offered to work for him as a hit man. Bulger said he rejected the offer.
Bulger wrote that he was not looking for anything in exchange for helping Weichel prove his innocence, and hoped that Weichel’s friend would come forward, cut a deal, and confess.
Bulger, who was captured in June 2011 at the Santa Monica, Calif., apartment, where he lived with longtime girlfriend Catherine Greig, seemed nostalgic in the long, rambling letters.
“Picture things going good for a change and prospect of a decent life in a place where the sun shines and beautiful beaches its out there — and we dont have to be Wealthy to enjoy life,” he wrote. “I found that out a little late in the game.’’