Bulger Trial

Federal prosecutor Fred Wyshak delivers closing arguments in the trial of James "Whitey" Bulger. WBUR's David Boeri says the prosecutors, who spent years building their case, did themselves no favors by appearing to defend the role of the FBI and Justice Department in the Bulger saga. (Jane Flavell Collins/AP)

In the minutes following Monday’s verdicts, the hall outside Courtroom 11 had the feel of a hospital trauma unit. Inside, federal prosecutors Fred Wyshak and Brian Kelly had racked up an overwhelming conviction of the vile and vicious James “Whitey” Bulger on 31 of 32 counts. But just outside, their statistical triumph was belied by the grief and shock of families who had just heard that the government had “not proved” Bulger’s role in the murder of their husbands, fathers and brothers.

Those 19 murders were at the heart of the government’s case, but the jury found the government had proved Bulger committed only 11 of them.

It was as if the prosecutors, the good guys, thought they couldn’t win if they exposed the full extent of corruption, collaboration, and willful blindness that had enabled a June bug to become a giant.

That scene in the hall will stay with me as long as I have a memory. Tears streamed down Connie Leonard’s face as she sought and embraced her twin sister, Brenna. Separated because the courtroom didn’t have enough room for both of them, they each endured the news alone that the government had failed to convince the jurors Bulger was criminally liable for the murder of their father, Francis “Buddy” Leonard, almost 40 years earlier. He had been shot 17 times. “I just don’t understand,” Connie said. Hugging me, she said it felt like her father had been shot 17 times again.

Walking through the stunned group, where even those who had gotten justice were quiet in their joy and compassionate for the grieving, Kelly walked up to Wyshak, who was standing next to me, and pronounced, “The jury didn’t like John Martorano’s testimony.”

As the gunman in most of the murders the jury didn’t pin on Bulger, Martorano had been the government’s main witness. He is a fat, mostly monosyllabic, and transparently unrepentant killer of 20 by his admission, and had gotten the most fabulous of deals, including an escape from facing the death penalty, freedom from prison after 12 years, and $20,000 walking money.

“Everything Martorano says is a lie,” one juror later quoted another juror saying during deliberations. If it is possible for a jury’s conviction of Bulger on 31 of 32 counts to seem somewhat hollow, here was the evidence. And here was the jury’s repudiation, in part, of “the government.”

For Kelly and Wyshak it had to be bitter. They were the ones who had forged the indictment, in 1994, that caused Bulger to flee, and another indictment, in 1999, that finally brought Bulger to some justice. But to their great frustration, they kept getting tangled up in the widespread criticism of “the government” in this trial, as in “government corruption, government cover-up, and government misconduct.”

Confessed killer John Martorano was a key government witness against his former boss. But the jury had trouble believing his testimony. (Margaret Small for WBUR)

Confessed killer John Martorano was a key witness against his former boss. But the jury had trouble believing his testimony. (Margaret Small for WBUR)

They saw themselves as the good guys. And for years, knowledgeable reporters and the team of state cops and one DEA agent who spearheaded the case against Bulger called them the good guys. The families of many of the victims had thought of them as the good guys, too.

But Wyshak and Kelly couldn’t exactly say “we’re not the government.” And the climate had changed and so had their tactics. Instead of distancing themselves further from the FBI and Justice Department, they had uncharacteristically defended the institutions or downplayed much that was indefensible.

The highest motive for bringing Bulger to trial was to give the families of Bulger’s 19 alleged murder victims an equal chance to see justice done. That brought them together, here at the trial. Yet together, the families posed a powerful indictment of the government’s misconduct and indifference, which, while not nearly so violent and vicious as the defendant’s, had denied them justice and, in many cases, deprived victims of their lives.

In presenting their witnesses, Wyshak and Kelly showed a tendency to soften their image, to present them as men who decided to do the right thing. The families saw them the same way defense attorneys did: as calculated opportunists. And here, in an extraordinary turn of events, the likes of which I have never seen before and don’t imagine I will see again, the families of Bulger’s alleged victims started to cheer for the defense attorneys whenever they took to cross-examination.

“Mr. Martorano, you are a mass murderer, aren’t you?” asked attorney Hank Brennan in his opening question, quickly winning the respect and appreciation of the families.

Only in his closing argument did Wyshak acknowledge the struggle of conscience he and the prosecution faced before “the government held its nose and made the deal” with the contemptible Martorano. The rationale, he explained, was that if they hadn’t made the deal, so many murders would have remained unsolved.

In an extraordinary turn of events, the likes of which I have never seen before and don’t imagine I will see again, the families of Bulger’s alleged victims started to cheer for the defense attorneys whenever they took to cross-examination.

It was as if the prosecutors, the good guys, thought they couldn’t win if they exposed the full extent of corruption, collaboration, and willful blindness that had enabled a June bug to become a giant. But to fail to bring this out before the defense did only made it look like the prosecutors were hiding the truth. It alienated the families and, we now know, some of the jurors as well.

In his closing argument, Wyshak vented his full frustration, in an angry, sarcastic attack on the defense. Don’t let them turn your focus from Bulger, he told the jurors. “He’s the one on trial here, not the government, not the FBI,” or other witnesses. “They want you to believe how big bad government needs to learn a lesson in this case.”

Behind Wyshak, there were three rows of victims’ family members who believed just that. “A lot of people say the government wasn’t on trial here,” said Tommy Donahue, the son of murder victim Michael Donahue. In a louder voice, he pronounced, “Yes, they were.”

The irony of this trial is that in seemingly trying to defend the institutions, Wyshak and Kelly created more doubt among the jurors about the guilt of the killer they had fought so hard to prosecute. I won’t forget the image of Bulger smiling as he walked out of the court unburdened of eight murders. His thumbs were up.

Editor’s note: A longer version of this piece was originally published on WBUR’s Bulger on Trial site.

Tags: Boston, Bulger Trial, Crime, Law

The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.

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  • Barry Kort

    Retributive Justice may have failed. Now it’s time for Restorative Justice.

  • gardenia

    Electrocute that miserable fool, today!

  • samuelpepys

    I find this an intelligent analysis, and it shows us something of what is coming to the US, now that we can no longer trust our government at any level–even when it is right. (Bush is to blame–Bush and Cheney and their network who made us international criminals and refused to join the World Court. But Obama is deeply complicit, in his lack of resistance to what he campaigned against.) The lack of trust in government speeds up corruption terribly: we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The one problematic point made here is this: “The highest motive for bringing Bulger to trial was to give the
    families of Bulger’s 19 alleged murder victims an equal chance to see
    justice done.” Not at all, the highest motive was to preserve the rule of a law, in a powerful nation whose president, military, and Congress no longer believe it applies to them, or to the laws they legislate and execute.

  • Jon Stuen-Parker

    The government used three main witnesses: John Martorano, Stephen Flemmi and Kevin Weeks. Each of them received sweet-heart deals. The jury didn’t believe John Martorano. Stephen Flemmi admitted committing perjury before Judge Wolf. So that leaves Kevin Weeks. But Kevin Weeks committed perjury when testifying about the Michael Donahue and Brian Halloran murders.
    On May 11, 1982, my brother, Jaime Parker, witnessed the Michael Donahue and Brian Halloran murders. He testified about those murders before Judge Reginald Lindsay. Kevin Weeks also testified under-oath about the Michael Donahue and Brian Halloran murders.
    Kevin Weeks couldn’t see the Michael Donahue and Brian Watson murders because he was inside Anthony’s Pier 4 Restaurant parking lot watching the Pier Restaurant with binoculars. When Brian Halloran left the Pier Restaurant, Kevin Weeks said in a walkie talkie, “The balloon’s in the air.” Brian Halloran entered Michael Donahue’s car. A car close to the Pier Restaurant blasted Michael Donahue’s car with a machine gun.
    Earlier that day, my brother and I enjoyed a boat ride. He was returning to my boat moored in the Fort Point Channel when Michael Donahue’s car drifted across the street. It stopped in front of three buildings and almost hit my brother’s car. My brother couldn’t drive around Michael Donahue’s car. Another car boxed him in. Who was in that car? Who machine-gunned Michael Donahue’s car? Reporter David Boeri published a story in which Kevin Weeks said Whitey Bulger had 6 FBI agents ready to hop in his car with machine guns. Did one of those agents blast Michael Donahue’s car with the machine gun?
    Whitey Bulger and his accomplice parked in the alley beside the Stop and Shop fish company. They walked past my brother’s car. Whitey carried an AK-47. My brother knew it was an AK-47 because he legally owned an AK-47. Whitey’s accomplice jumped on Michael Donahue’s car and shot through the windshield. Brian Halloran leaped from the passenger door. Whitey dropped him with bullets.
    Brian Halloran wore white pants. For two minutes, Whitey Bulger tortured Brian Halloran. As both men yelled obscenities, Whitey Bulger started shooting Brian Halloran’s ankles. My brother watched red dots rise up the white pants. He said Brian Halloran flapped like a flounder.
    40 minutes later, two FBI agents found my brother at his girlfriend’s Dorchester apartment. The FBI agents asked what he witnessed. If he recognized Whitey Bulger, he probably would be dead.
    My brother’s car was registered to our mother’s house. No one contacted my mother and she didn’t know the girlfriend’s address. Either the FBI followed my brother from the murder scene, or one of Whitey Bulger’s gang followed my brother and contacted the FBI. There is no statute of limitations for accessory to murder. The two FBI agents that found my brother at his girlfriend’s apartment should be indicted for accessory to murder.
    Kevin Weeks testified Whitey Bulger wore a wig and his accomplice wore a mask. My brother saw no mask and Whitey wore no wig. The two FBI interveiwing my brother filed a report saying he told them one of the killer’s had curly brown hair (same as James Flynn). That was a lie!
    They put a federal seal on my brother’s Boston Police Incident Report. Robert Mueller worked for the Boston U.S. Attorney when Brian Halloran and Michael Donahue were murdered. Robert Mueller was the Boston U.S. Attorney during Halloran/Donahue murder investigation. Only very powerful person could influence a federal judge to seal a public record. Did Robert Mueller request sealing my brother’s Boston Police police witness statement?
    The 1st Circuit Court accepts two very different stories about the same murders. One from a person that has no reason to lie and one from a person with every reason to lie.
    The policeman speaking to Brian Halloran before he died also gave testimony before Judge Reginald Lindsay about the Michael Donahue and Brian Halloran murders. This policeman stated he lived in South Boston and his testimony was being video-taped because he would be away on a vacation. He testified that Brian Halloran told him James Flynn was the gumne that shot him. Every policeman living in South Boston knew implicating Whitey Bulger in murder was a death sentence. This policeman couldn’t even look at the video camera. His eyes were downcast and shifting from side to side as if full of guilt.
    The two FBI agents didn’t show my brother Whitey Bulger’s photo. They showed him James Flynn’s photo and kept insisting he was Brian Halloran’s killer. They instilled fear in my brother. They told him gangsters lived near his house. They offered my brother the protective witness program and a credit card if he would testify that James Flynn killed Brian Halloran. My brother went from a normal citizen (plumber) to a state hospital mental patient because of the fear instilled by the FBI.
    When James Flynn was arrested, they took my brother from the mental hospital and brought him to a grand jury. Again they wanted him to identify Jame Flynn was the killer of Brian Halloran. Unlike the FBI, my brother couldn’t send an innocent man to prison.
    In 1985, the FBI asked me for criminal information. Since I lived in South Boston, giving the FBI criminal information at that time meant my death. Both my brother and filed federal lawsuits. These lawsuits have never been mentioned by any press. As you can see from the above, the federal corruption revealed by the Whitey Bulger trial was only the tip of the iceberg. Federal law enforcrment corruption happened DURING the Whitey Bulger trial.
    The FBI knew that Kevin Weeks would be commting perjury when testifying about the Michael Donahue and Brian Halloran murders. Tax payers were forced to pay a $100 million dollar settlement because the FBI used Joseph Barboza as a government witness when knowing he would commit perjury.
    FBI agent Gerald Montanari was in charge of the Michael Donahue and Brian Halloran murder investiagtion. During the McIntyre civil lawsuit trial, Gerald Montari testified before Juge Lindsay. he was asked: “Was Whitey Bulger a suspect in the murders?” Gerald Montari answered, “Yes.” Judge Lindsay asked, “Was the witness shown Whitey Bulger’s picture?” Gerald Montanari answered, “No.” Gerald Montanari was referring to a female witness. There was no mention of my brother. During the recess, I told a McIntyre family lawyer about my brother and his pending lawsuit. When the trial resumed, this McIntyre family asked Gerald Montanari, “Was this (the female) the closest witness?” Gerald Montanari answered, “Yes.” Clearly, you can see that Gerald Montanari committed perjury.

    We need further Congressional hearings to to investigate FBI corruption.