James “Whitey” Bulger, the one-time feared leader of the Winter Hill Gang, which terrorised much of south Boston through most of the Seventies and Eighties, was found guilty of murder and racketeering, exposing him to a likely sentence of life behind bars.
The verdicts came at the end of a tumultuous trial that evoked a distant era when south Boston and the white Irish-Catholic underworld had to some become almost synonymous. The jury said prosecutors had proved that Bulger had orchestrated or participated in 11 of the 19 murders cited by them.
Once the most-wanted man in America, Bulger, now 83-years-old, had fled Boston in 1994 after a tip-off from a crooked FBI agent that he was about to be arrested. It was more than 16 years later, in 2011, that he was finally tracked down and arrested living in a modest apartment in Santa Monica, California.
His going down after a trial that saw a parade of witnesses who themselves had once killed and extorted on his watch, including Steve “The Rifleman” Flemmi and John “The Enforcer” Martorano, may offer peace to the families of those victims whose deaths were formally linked last night by the jury to Bulger and possible closure of a sort to Boston itself, a city that long ago outgrew its once-gritty gangland reputation.
An unidentified woman taunted him as he was being led out of the courtroom in Boston’s main courthouse, mimicking the firing of a machine gun and shouting: “Rat-a-tat-tat, Whitey!” Bulger himself stood motionless during the reading of the verdicts with no visible expression on his face.
The two-month trial, which had gripped the public imagination and led to long queues outside the court each day, also provided an uncomfortable reminder of the cosiness that once existed between the underworld and the FBI, and the corruption that afflicted the agency as it purported to fight violent crime.
While it said that Bulger’s involvement in eight other murders cited in the case had not been proved, the jury otherwise delivered a near-complete victory for the prosecution, finding Bulger guilty of 31 of 32 of the counts against him. Prosecutors had told the court he was a hands-on boss who was personally responsible for Winter Hill’s long reign of terror.
The murders were incorporated in the main racketeering charge, which also spanned extortion, drug dealing and money laundering, crimes with which the underworld everywhere has been associated. The jury also heard how many of Bulger’s crimes were committed while he was also an informant to the Boston FBI.
The verdicts came on the fifth day of jury deliberations. Bulger is set to be sentenced in mid-November. Even if the number of years behind bars turns out to be modest, they will assuredly amount to a life sentence given his advanced years.
During his time of rule, Bulger was seen by some as a benevolent enforcer of order in south Boston, delivering Christmas turkeys to families and keeping drugs out of his patch. But at the trial prosecutors portrayed a ruthless, cold-blooded man who killed some of his victims with his bare hands. Two women victims were strangled by him. He shot two men he had chained to chairs to interrogate them.
Among those watching yesterday was Patricia Donahue, whose husband, Michael Donahue, was killed in a hail of bullets unleashed when he gave a ride to an FBI informant Bulger had marked for death. His was one of the murders the jury said had been proved by the prosecution to have been the work of Bulger.
“He’s guilty of murdering my husband,” she said, breaking out instantly in tears. “There’s nobody that said that. It brings out a lot of emotion, and when it finally happens, it’s kind of hard.”