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‘Whitey’ Bulger’s former FBI handler eligible for parole in 1982 slaying

Former FBI agent John Connolly has served nine years in prison for his role in John Callahan’s 1982 death.

Associated Press/File 2008

Former FBI agent John Connolly has served nine years in prison for his role in John Callahan’s 1982 death.

Former FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. will have a chance to argue for parole later this month after serving a little more than nine years in prison for his role in a 1982 slaying in Florida orchestrated by James “Whitey” Bulger.

In 2008, Connolly was convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting death of John Callahan, a Boston businessman, and sentenced to 40 years in prison. But Connolly, 76, is eligible for early release because the slaying occurred in 1982, before tougher sentencing laws were adopted in Florida.

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“I think he hasn’t done anywhere near enough time,” said Callahan’s son, Patrick, 49, of Winchester. “It’s way, way too early, I think, to even consider parole.”

Callahan said he will urge the Florida Commission on Offender Review to keep Connolly behind bars for many more years during a parole hearing, slated to be held March 29 in Tallahassee.

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Prosecutors also plan to oppose Connolly’s parole, according to Ed Griffith, a spokesman for Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, whose office prosecuted the case.

At the parole hearing, the commission will interview Connolly and hear testimony from people who support or oppose his parole. The commission won’t immediately vote on whether to grant him parole but will set a “presumptive parole release date,” a spokeswoman said. That date is subject to change.

As of Monday, Connolly had served 3,373 days of his sentence, which includes time he spent in state prison while awaiting trial. Based on the laws in effect in 1982, he has also been credited with another 6,117 days of “gaintime” for good behavior and participating in activities, according to Ashley Cook, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections.

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Connolly has been disciplined only once, for speaking on the telephone in 2012 with someone who was not on his approved call list, Cook said. He received 30 days in disciplinary confinement.

Citing security concerns, prison officials would not disclose where Connolly is held.

Connolly’s former lawyer, Manuel Casabielle, who represented him in his murder trial, said Connolly should have been released long ago, noting that a state appeals court overturned his conviction several years ago, only to reinstate it the following year.

“I hope he does get out soon and can spend some time with his family,” Casabielle said.

The once-decorated FBI agent, who grew up in the same South Boston housing development as Bulger and recruited him as an informant, was not in Florida when Callahan was killed. But jurors found Connolly leaked information to Bulger and Stephen Flemmi that prompted the gangsters to order the death of Callahan, an accountant and former gambling company executive with ties to Bulger’s gang.

Flemmi testified Connolly warned him and Bulger that the FBI wanted to question Callahan and that the businessman would probably implicate them in the 1981 slaying of World Jai Alai owner Roger Wheeler in Oklahoma, as well as two other slayings in Boston.

A Bulger associate, John Martorano, testified that at the urging of Bulger and Flemmi, he lured Callahan to Florida and shot him to death.

Connolly’s sentence for the murder came while he was already serving a 10-year prison term for a 2002 federal racketeering conviction. In that case, a federal jury in Boston found that Connolly helped Bulger evade capture by warning him he was about to be indicted.

Bulger, who was captured in 2011 after more than 16 years on the run, is serving a life sentence for participating in 11 murders, including Callahan’s.

Connolly has continued to maintain his innocence. In January, the director of the Miami Law Innocence Clinic filed a motion to overturn Connolly’s conviction, contending that his lawyers failed to file certain motions during the trial.

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.
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