BOSTON (Reuters) - James “Whitey” Bulger, a brutal gangster who ruled over Boston’s criminal underworld in the 1970s and ‘80s and evaded capture for 16 years, was found guilty of murder and racketeering by a jury on Monday and will likely spend the rest of his life in prison.
The 83-year-old Bulger, dressed in a gray shirt, dark pants and white sneakers, stood quietly as the verdict was read, showing little emotional response to the decision by jurors to convict him after five days of deliberation in Boston federal court. Bulger’s sentencing was scheduled for November 13.
He ran the “Winter Hill” crime gang after coming to power in a mob war that resulted in the death of members of rival gangs. He cemented his grip on Boston’s crime scene through ties with corrupt FBI officials who shared his Irish ethnicity and turned a blind eye to his crimes in exchange for information they could use against the Italian Mafia.
During the two month-long trial, the 12 jurors heard vivid descriptions of Bulger’s crimes. They included the brazen daylight shootings of fellow criminals, the terrifying extortion of a victim at whose crotch Bulger aimed a machine gun and how one associate would pull teeth from the mouths of dead victims, hoping to make the bodies harder to identify.
Nicknamed “Whitey” because of the shock of blonde hair he had as a young man, Bulger fled Boston in 1994 after a tip from a corrupt agent that his arrest was imminent. He spent 16 years on the run, many of them on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list, before agents caught up with him in June 2011, living in a seaside Santa Monica, California apartment.
The jury convicted him of all but one of 32 criminal counts.
“Thirty-one out of thirty-two counts in such a complicated case covering such a long period of time is a fabulous result for the government,” said Michael Kendall of the law firm McDermott Will & Emery, a former federal prosecutor in Boston. “He’s going to go to jail for the rest of his life, he’s going to get a sentence at the very high end of the applicable guidelines.”
The jury found prosecutors had proven their case in 11 murders out of the 19 murders charged at trial.
They decided prosecutors had failed to prove their case in murders that dated back to a 1970s turf war with another organization, the Notorangeli gang. The victims included members of that gang and people who were killed by accident in botched hits and had nothing to do with the gangs.
The jury reached no finding in the death of one woman, Debra Davis, a girlfriend of Bulger associate Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi. Flemmi testified at trial that Bulger strangled Davis in a South Boston house after she learned of their dealings with the FBI. Other witnesses had testified that Flemmi himself finished Davis off.
The murders were part of the most complicated count jurors faced, racketeering offense. They needed to find he committed just two of the 38 crimes contained in that count for their guilty verdict.
The jury found him not guilty of only one criminal count of extortion.
The government’s case relied heavily on three former top associates of Bulger, Flemmi, John “The Executioner” Martorano and Kevin Weeks, who detailed 19 grisly murders the gang committed.
Bulger’s lawyers, who on the first day admitted their client was a drug dealer, extortionist and loan shark and later on described him as an “organized criminal” mounted an atypical defence, rarely directly addressing many of the charges.
Most of their efforts focused on denying prosecutors’ assertion that Bulger served as an FBI informant for more than a decade, although they also denied he had killed two women, saying those murders had been the work of Flemmi.
Bulger declined to take the stand at the trial, telling U.S. District Judge Denise Casper early this month, “as far as I‘m concerned ... this is a sham and do what you want with me.”
Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Grant McCool