BOSTON — As the highly anticipated trial of reputed mobster James “Whitey” Bulger gets underway, jurors will hear prosecutors and defense attorneys describe a man who has been a legendary figure in Boston for decades.
The two portraits will have nothing in common.
Prosecutors have said they will present evidence that Bulger, the leader of the violent Winter Hill Gang, participated in 19 killings in the 1970s and ‘80s. They also plan to show the jury a 700-page file they say shows that Bulger, while committing a long list of crimes, was also working as an FBI informant, providing information on the New England Mob — his gang’s main rivals — and corrupting FBI agents who ignored his crimes.
Defense attorneys have made it clear that they plan to attack the credibility of three once-loyal Bulger cohorts who will be star prosecution witnesses: Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, Bulger’s former partner; John Martorano, a former hit man who admitted killing 20 people; and Kevin Weeks, a former Bulger lieutenant who led authorities to six bodies.
Prosecutor Brian Kelly told jurors in opening statements today that Bulger headed a criminal organization that “ran amok” in Boston for nearly 30 years, killing 19 people, extorting millions from drug dealers and other criminals, and corrupting police and FBI agents.
“At the center of all this murder and mayhem is one man — the defendant in this case, James Bulger,” Kelly said.
Bulger’s gang succeeded, Kelly said, by instilling fear in other criminals and corrupting law enforcement officials who tipped them off when they were being investigated.
“It was part of a strategy they had, and it worked for them,” Kelly said.
Bulger, now 83, was one of the nation’s most wanted fugitives when he fled Boston in 1994 after receiving a tip from his former FBI handler, John Connolly, that he was about to be indicted. He was finally captured in 2011 in Santa Monica, Calif., where he had been living with his longtime girlfriend in a rent-controlled apartment.
Connolly was convicted of racketeering for warning Bulger and later of second-degree murder for giving information to Bulger that led to the slaying of a Boston businessman in Miami.
Bulger’s lawyers have denied that he was ever an FBI informant and have indicated they will argue that Connolly fabricated informant reports in Bulger’s lengthy FBI file.
The defense may also present another side of Bulger seen by some residents of South Boston, where he was known for years as a kind of harmless tough guy who gave Thanksgiving dinners to his working-class neighbors.
Prosecutors, however, plan to call one family member of each of the 19 people prosecutors allege were killed by Bulger and his gang. Among the victims were two 26-year-old women who Bulger is accused of strangling.
The trial is expected to last three to four months.