A packed courtroom in Boston listened in rapt silence on Monday as a former hitman for the once-feared Winter Hill Gang testified against his former underworld boss, James “Whitey” Bulger, who is standing trial on multiple counts of racketeering as well as ordering or taking part in 19 murders during his dark reign across the city.
John Martorano has himself confessed to 20 murders during the period that the gang, under Mr Bulger, ran serial criminal enterprises in Boston from 1972 to 2000, extracting protection money from businessmen, drug dealers and bookmakers and allegedly eliminating those who threatened it or stood in its way.
A star prosecution witness who will return to the stand today, Martorano served only 12 years in prison after striking deals with federal prosecutors to testify against Mr Bulger, 83, when – if ever – he was brought to trial. Mr Bulger was eventually arrested in 2011 while living with his girlfriend in a flat in Santa Monica, California.
“I walked in and shot him. We had to get someone to bury him,” Martorano said of one hit allegedly ordered by Mr Bulger. The victim in question was James Sousa, a junior associate of the gang who was deemed a risk because he had been speaking with police after a botched robbery. “What did you do after you shot Mr Sousa?” a prosecutor asked. “Went home and cleaned up, I believe ... The blood went everywhere,” the witness replied.
Martorano, who was released from prison in 2007 and now lives in Cambridge near Harvard University surviving on royalties from a book about him as well a state pension, has previously said he decided to co-operate with the FBI after discovering that Mr Bulger himself had been an informant for some of the time that he led the feared gang.
On the stand, he spoke of his disappointment on discovering the defendant as well his former top lieutenant, Stephen “the Rifleman” Flemmi, had been turned. “After I found out they were informants, it sort of broke my heart,’’ he testified. “They broke all trust that we had, all loyalty.” He said that before he got into bed with the FBI they had been “my partners in crime, my best friends, my children’s godfathers”.
While prosecutors hope that their case will largely be made by the testimony of Martorano and other men who once worked for Mr Bulger, the defence team will argue that, as former crooks themselves, they are unreliable witnesses and jurors should not take their statements at face value.
“He would kill people almost randomly,” J W Carney, the lead defence lawyer, said of Martorano, whom he described as a “criminal psychopath”. He went on: “He would kill people as easily as we would order a cup of coffee... The federal government was so desperate to have John Martorano testify ... they basically put their hands up in the air and said ‘Take anything you want’.”
The trial is expected to last well into August.