YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Whitey Bulger won't talk, considers trial a sham, lawyer says

November 13, 2013|By Alana Semuels
  • In this courtroom sketch, James "Whitey" Bulger sits at his sentencing hearing in federal court in Boston.
In this courtroom sketch, James "Whitey" Bulger sits at his… (Jane Flavell Collins )

BOSTON -- Whitey Bulger sat in court as he was called a rat, Satan, a coward, a punk, a psychopath, a bag of jailhouse rags and some other terms not suitable for mention in a family newspaper, and after all that, decided to keep silent.

The Boston mobster, captured in Santa Monica in 2011 after 16 years on the run, indicated in the first day of a two-day sentencing hearing that he would not speak, a disappointing turn of events for some who had wanted to hear his side of events.

Bulger considers the trial a sham, lawyer Jay Carney said outside the courthouse, and thus does not want to participate.

His decision capped an emotional day of testimony from families of Bulger’s victims, who spoke of how Bulger’s actions had irreparably damaged them. They sat quietly in the packed courtroom in a spacious courthouse on Boston’s revitalized waterfront, just as many did during the long weeks of the trial this summer. Some broke into tears while speaking; others seemed angry rather than sad. Many thanked Judge Denise J. Casper and said they looked forward to having the trial behind them.

“It's frankly hard to know where to start in this case,” prosecutor Brian Kelly said in his opening statement. “The defendant has committed one heinous crime after another. He strangles people, he shoots people who are handcuffed, he moves bodies from one place to another, he makes up reasons to extort people for hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

Bulger faces a maximum sentence of life in prison plus five years. Casper said she would sentence him Thursday morning.

Through it all, Bulger sat in an orange jumpsuit -- a contrast from the nicer clothes he wore during the trial -- and looked down at a notepad, barely reacting at all. His decision not to look at the victims' families frustrated a few of the speakers, who stood parallel to Bulger's seat.

“You won't even turn around and look at us, coward?” said Patrick Callahan, the son of John Callahan, who was found dead in his car in 1982.

Bulger appeared to look up only twice, once when Teresa Bond, the daughter of a victim, asked him to, and once when Steven Davis, the brother of alleged victim Debra Davis, shouted at him, breaking down in tears.

The speakers included family members of victims of the 11 people Bulger was convicted of killing, as well as family members of some people who the jury did not reach a decision on.  Casper said she had decided to hear from both groups.

Some of the victims’ testimonies brought listeners back to a Boston of days past, including details from Sean McGonagle, the son of Paul McGonagle, an alleged Boston rival.

“You stooped to an all-time low when you called my house, I answered, you told me, ‘Your father’s not coming home for Christmas.’ When I asked who this is, you stated, ‘Santa Claus,’ ” McGonagle said. “In the end, you’re really just an intellectually, physically, mentally deficient, sad, lonely and irrelevant old man.”

Patricia Donahue, whose husband, Michael Donahue, was gunned down while giving a ride to someone who was a Bulger target, remembered a man who was 32 when he died in 1982, who liked to cook steaks and would stay up all night assembling bicycles for his three sons before Christmas.

“On May 11, 1982, a complete stranger named Whitey Bulger crossed our paths, and everything we cherished was gone in the blink of an eye,” she said.

Kathleen Connors Nichols, who appeared on behalf of herself and six siblings, spoke of learning about her father’s death in 1975 from a graphic photo of his body on the front page of the Boston Globe. From then on, she said, she and her family had to live with the stigma of being linked to a murder victim.

“There’s a stigma attached to murder that only the victims' families know, and it is mentally exhausting,” she said. “Seemingly simple questions become a mental battle with yourself, on, how do I answer this: 'How did your father die?' Do you tell them the shocking truth, that he was practically cut in half from the overkill of ammo fired into his body?”

The FBI was referred to frequently during the hearing, described by some family members as a Bulger accomplice that also deserved to be held accountable for the deaths. Bulger worked closely with FBI agents including John J. Connolly Jr., who tipped off Bulger that he had been indicted and is serving a 40-year prison term. Bulger often learned about informants, whom he later murdered, through his FBI sources. Bulger's defense tried to argue during the trial that he was not an informant.

“Quite possibly our father could be alive today if it weren’t for the corrupt proclivities of federal, state and Boston city law enforcement,” Connors Nichols said.

Los Angeles Times Articles