The murder of one of James “Whitey” Bulger’s extortion victims came at the height of the gangster’s 2013 trial, raising fears about an underworld connection.
But on Wednesday, a jury found that the man who killed Stephen Rakes had nothing to do with Boston’s organized crime circles, but was rather a longtime friend and business partner who owed the victim money.
After a four-week trial and 12½ hours of deliberations, the Middlesex County jury found William J. Camuti guilty of first-degree murder. Prosecutors presented evidence that Camuti, 72, handed Rakes a cup of potassium-cyanide-laced iced coffee during a meeting at a McDonald’s in Waltham, then drove him around for several hours, watching him slowly die.
In a statement after the verdict, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said Camuti was deep in debt to Rakes when he offered to meet “to discuss financial matters over coffee.”
He poisoned Rakes to avoid paying him a $100,000 debt, then “waited for his so-called friend to die before leaving the victim in the woods in Lincoln,” Ryan said.
Camuti, of Sudbury, faces life in prison without parole. Judge Bruce Henry scheduled Camuti’s sentencing for Thursday morning, following impact statements from Rakes’s family. The retired MBTA worker, who was 59, had three children.
Camuti’s lawyer, Brad Bailey, said his client’s conviction will automatically be appealed to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. Camuti maintains his innocence, he said.
“The jury deliberated over the course of three days and for that I’m grateful,” Bailey said.
Rakes, a South Boston native who was living in Quincy, had been a fixture at Bulger’s racketeering trial, and was expected to testify about how Bulger forced him to sell him his South Boston liquor store in 1984. The crime boss and his associates menaced Rakes at his home at gunpoint, in the presence of Rakes’s two young daughters.
But on July 16, 2013, prosecutors told Rakes he wouldn’t be called to the witness stand. Jurors heard about the extortion from other witnesses.
That afternoon, Rakes left the federal courthouse in Boston to meet Camuti. His body was found the next day by a jogger in a wooded area in Lincoln.
Steve Davis, whose 26-year-old sister was allegedly strangled by Bulger, became close friends with Rakes as the case against Bulger unfolded, and was called to testify at Camuti’s trial.
Rakes was angry when he learned he wouldn’t get to testify about how Bulger had menaced him and his family, according to Davis. But he had no time to talk because he was rushing to meet someone in Waltham.
Davis said he didn’t know at the time the man was Camuti, only that Rakes was involved in a real estate venture with someone who owed him money. Later that day, Davis left repeated messages for Rakes, who was apparently already dead.
Several members of the jury that convicted Bulger of extorting Rakes’s liquor store, 11 murders, and a variety of other crimes, said afterwards they were fearful when they heard news reports about Rakes’s murder.
Davis speculated that Camuti killed Rakes during Bulger’s trial in an attempt to shift blame to others. He said he is haunted by a photograph of Rakes’s lifeless body, which he was asked to identify when he took the stand at Camuti’s trial.
“The guy would have had more heart putting a bullet in his head than poisoning him,” said Davis. “It stuck with me because of the way it was done.”
Camuti called Rakes’s children after his body was found to express his condolences, Davis said.
During initial interviews with police, Camuti provided conflicting accounts of his meeting with Rakes. Days later, he confessed to the crime after attempting to commit suicide, according to prosecutors.
Camuti’s lawyers challenged the alleged confession, saying police didn’t record the exchange and destroyed notes from the meeting.Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.