Bulger's Lawyers Will Appeal Murder Verdicts

Aug 13, 2013

James “Whitey” Bulger is facing life in prison after yesterday’s dramatic verdicts in his case in federal court in Boston.

The jury convicted him on 31 of 32 counts in a murder and racketeering trial that lasted nearly two months.

His sentencing hearing is scheduled for November 13, but his lawyers plan to appeal.

The verdict was overwhelming, but as WBUR’s David Boeri reports, nothing in the Bulger case is ever as straightforward as it might appear.


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A sentencing hearing for Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger is scheduled for November 13th, but his lawyers plan to appeal the verdicts handed down against him yesterday by a jury in Boston federal court. The jury convicted him on 31 of 32 counts in a murder and racketeering trial that lasted almost two months. But as David Boeri of HERE AND NOW contributing station WBUR reports, nothing in the Bulger case is ever as straightforward as it might appear.

DAVID BOERI, BYLINE: Another question from the jurors to the judge on day five of deliberations seemed to portent a day six. Then came word of the verdict. The courtroom filled, the families of Bulger's alleged murder victims tensed. The somber jurors entered in single pile, eyes straight ahead and not looking at Bulger.

Jurors, hearken to your verdict, announced the clerk. The foreman passed their verdict form to her. She passed it to the judge. The judge examined it with deliberations that made the families even more impatient. On the first two counts, racketeering conspiracy and racketeering, guilty. U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz would soon pronounced that the nightmare that was James "Whitey" Bulger is over.

CARMEN ORTIZ: He will spend the rest of his life in prison far away from the beaches of Santa Monica and far from the streets of South Boston.

BOERI: But for crime that never stops and a case that never ends, the clerk started reading the verdicts in the heart of this case, the 19 acts of murder within the racketeering count. The murder of Michael Milano, not proved, read the clerk, her voice trembling. The first gasp of shock stole the air. Milano's older brother was crying unbelievable.

The murder of Al Plummer, not proved. The murder of William O'Brien, not proved. Billy O'Brien dropped his head. He had been born four days after his father was shot to death some 40 years ago. He had craved and accounting, and he was beside himself.

BILLY O'BRIEN: My father just got murdered 40 years later, again, today in this courtroom. That prosecution dropped the ball. That jury should be ashamed of themselves.

BOERI: Six times, the clerk read not proved. The murder of Paul McGonagle, proved. His son, Paul, spoke for the family.

PAUL MCGONAGLE: James Bulger is a murdering sociopath and he's guilty, and he should be held accountable.

BOERI: The tide of the jury's verdicts changed from this point. They proved Bulger had committed the next set of murders. Then came another crushing defeat for another family. Connie Leonard is the daughter of Buddy Leonard. In 1975, he was killed the same night Bulger murdered Tom King. Afterwards, Bulger allegedly put Buddy Leonard's body in King's car.

CONNIE LEONARD: The car he actually come out of was full of bullets. The father had 13 bullets. I don't know how they could find one - they did find him guilty on the King and not on Buddy Leonard. I don't understand it, not for the life of me. Everybody knows he did it.

BOERI: It was as if my father was murdered all over again, she claimed. She was angry, too, that she'd been kept out of the courtroom for the verdict because it was too crowded.

LEONARD: I had to go as an overflow where I sat alone, by the way, all alone, by myself to hear this verdict. I thought to myself, it doesn't get worse than that. It was just, you know, it was horrible, horrible.

BOERI: Having one convictions on 31 of 32 counts, prosecutor Brian Kelly walked out of the courtroom into a corridor of stunned and grieving families. The jury didn't like John Mortorano, Kelly announced to someone. Mortorano is the flat line, emotionless killer of 20 who became one of the government's key witnesses. He'd served just 12 and a half years for his crimes in a deal so sweet that it put the government on the defensive.

Tom Foley, who led the state police team that made the investigative case that broke Bulger, explained.

TOM FOLEY: John Mortorano, yeah, we had sleepless night making a deal with him. None of us really wanted to do that. My frustration, you know, with the FBI, the government at that time was - we were in a position that we had to make that choice. You know, we do not want to make the choice. We had to go into an agreement with him. If we didn't, we'd still be going through this right now.

BOERI: But Foley understood the problems the prosecution had created by not distancing itself enough from the misconduct of the FBI and the Department of Justice, and by embracing too closely some of its witnesses. Prosecution witness Kevin Weeks said the jurors clearly had problems with one or two of his fellow witnesses, especially when it came to early murders.

It was convictions that ruled the day, though, as verdicts of proved and guilty ran the board after the early murders. Pat Donahue and her sons raised their hands in victory when the clerk read proved concerning the murder of her husband and their father. Tommy took to the banks of microphones outside the courthouse.

TOMMY DONAHUE: After 31 years, after a lot of FBI cover-ups, deceits and lies, we finally have somebody guilty in the murder of my father.

BOERI: Pat Donahue, whose lawsuits against the government had been fought by Department of Justice attorneys attacking the very credibility of the government's own witnesses at this trial, expressed joy.

PATRICIA DONAHUE: I think I cried for myself and I cried for them because we're kind of all in the same situation here. So it's - I mean they have emotions. I have emotions, you know, because it's just been such a long drawn-out situation.

BOERI: Ortiz, the U.S. attorney, embraced honest law enforcement and said that the past was just that, the past.

ORTIZ: This day of reckoning for Bulger has been a long time in coming, too long due to his decades-long of corruption and corrupting law enforcement officials in this city.

BOERI: Yet one of Bulger's lawyers, Hank Brennan, said the past wasn't past.

HANK BRENNAN: This trial, while it tells quite a bit about the criminal justice system and the corruptness in the Department of Justice, doesn't begin to tell the whole story.

BOERI: There was no moment of grace, it seemed, on which this trial could end. On the murders of two women, which Bulger had most vehemently denied and on which his attorneys had spend most of their effort, the jury split. It stated that the government had proved the murder Deborah Hussey, but the jurors could not reach a verdict on the murder of Debbie Davis, the ex-girlfriend of Stephen Flemmi. He's the government witness who testified that Bulger strangled her. But the jury was not convinced by Flemmi's word. Her brother, Steven Davis, said he too might not have had enough to convict. But...

STEVEN DAVIS: She knows I'm a fighter. And in this I'll be the last man standing.

BOERI: To all of this Bulger reacted not at all that we could tell, although he pretended to be scribbling when he wasn't. He's likely to get a sentence of life plus 30 years in prison. But the story, with a power of its own, persists, driven by an unwavering call for accountability.

HOBSON: That report from WBUR's David Boeri, and you're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.