The son of a man murdered by the Boston crime-lord James “Whitey” Bulger has described him as “Satan” at a sentencing hearing almost as colourful and unruly as the trial that preceded it.
Bulger was convicted in August of participation in 11 murders, including the 1974 killing of Paul McGonagle, whose son Sean told a federal court that the electric chair would be “too good” for the 84-year-old gangster, whom he said was a “domestic terrorist” and an “irrelevant old man”.
Sean McGonagle, 49, was the first of several victims’ family members to speak at the two-day sentencing hearing, which began today in Boston. At the conclusion of his recent eight-week trial, Bulger was found guilty on 31 counts, for a string of crimes including racketeering, murder, extortion and money-laundering, all committed from the 1970s to the 1990s, when he led the notorious Winter Hill Gang.
Prosecutors filed a sentencing memorandum last week, saying that under federal sentencing guidelines Bulger ought to face life in prison, followed by another life sentence for possession of machine guns, and a further five years for possessing handguns.
Bulger, whom the memorandum claims “has no redeeming qualities”, is unlikely ever to see freedom again. Bulger, who maintains that his trial was a “sham”, arrived for the hearing wearing an orange prison jumpsuit. The families of his victims were joined in court by law enforcement officers from several agencies who tracked him after he fled Boston to escape arrest in 1994. He was finally caught 17 years later, living under an assumed name in Santa Monica, California.
The hearing threatened to turn even uglier than expected after a family feud spilled into the courtroom. Marie Mahony, the daughter of William O’Brien, shot dead in 1973, told Bulger: “We got you, you rat.” She was followed to the podium by William O’Brien Jr, O’Brien’s son from another mother, who rounded angrily on Ms Mahony for having claimed she was O’Brien’s only child. Mr O’Brien apologised to Judge Denise Casper for his outburst before continuing with his testimony.
Bulger, meanwhile, refused to look at his victims’ family members, instead gazing down at his notepad throughout. He declined the opportunity to address the court himself.
Bulger’s eight-week trial heard from 73 witnesses. Though the 84-year-old was convicted of participation in 11 murders, he was linked to 19 deaths in all, and Judge Casper is expected to look into securing restitution for the families of all 19 victims.
The trial’s most explosive testimony came from Bulger’s long-time associate Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, who claimed Bulger had killed Deborah Hussey, Flemmi’s stepdaughter, in 1985. The men hurled obscenities across the courtroom as Flemmi insisted he and Bulger had been FBI informants for 15 years during their criminal careers.
Some of those testifying reserved much of their anger for the FBI, which they believed had facilitated Bulger’s reign of terror in South Boston. David Wheeler, the son of the murdered Oklahoma businessman Roger Wheeler, said: “The FBI... is responsible for my father’s murder. They are as responsible for his murder as the defendant here sitting before you.” Wheeler was killed in 1981 after uncovering an embezzlement scheme at his business World Jai Alai, involving Bulger, Flemmi and a corrupt former FBI agent.
Bulger, who inspired Jack Nicholson’s character in the Oscar-winning film The Departed, is also the subject of a mooted biopic produced by Ben Affleck, and starring Matt Damon as the mobster.