BOSTON (Reuters) - An altar-boy-turned-gang-enforcer told jurors at the trial of accused mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger on Wednesday that he did not set the terms of a deal with prosecutors allowing him to serve just 12 years in prison for 20 murders in exchange for details against his former boss.
The witness, John "The Executioner" Martorano, was the first member of the ruthless Winter Hill Gang to testify against Bulger, who is on trial for charges including racketeering and 19 murders that occurred in the 1970s and '80s.
Martorano is seen as a star witness whose testimony linking Bulger to a dozen murders could form the backbone of the prosecution's case, though defense attorneys have sought to portray him and upcoming witnesses who were gang members as men who would say anything to limit their time in prison.
"I didn't dictate to the government at all," said Martorano, 72, who wore a gray suit with a slightly loosened tie. "I told them what I knew about myself, Whitey and Stevie."
Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi is another former member of the gang due to testify against Bulger.
Bulger, now 83, has pleaded not guilty to all charges of committing or ordering 19 murders.
He is accused of killing many rivals as he rose from small-time crook in a gritty Boston neighborhood to one of the most feared criminals in the city's history, prosecutors charge. He then disappeared and spent 16 years in hiding before his arrest in California in 2011.
His story has captivated the city for years and inspired the 2006 Academy Award-winning movie "The Departed."
Martorano, who agreed to testify against Bulger after learning that he had worked with the FBI for years, said he had refused to provide information on other suspects until prosecutors had worked out a plea deal.
He said prosecutors later presented him with a "target list" of suspects they wanted him to provide details on, including Bulger, Flemmi, fellow gang member Kevin Weeks and four others, including some Martorano said he did not know.
Under cross-examination by defense lawyers that began on Tuesday, Martorano resisted the labels "hitman" and "serial killer," saying he "always tried to be a nice guy," never killed for money and believed murder was justified in defense of family and friends.
"My father always taught me that. ... The priests and the nuns I grew up with taught me that," he told the jury.
Bulger's trial has stirred memories of a darker time in Boston's history. Some of the killings described occurred just blocks from the waterfront federal courthouse that is the scene of what is expected to be a three- to four-month trial.
Bulger's willingness to kill associates he suspected of talking too much belied the fact that for years he traded information with a corrupt FBI agent, according to prosecutors. Bulger, through his attorneys, denies having been an informant.
Earlier in the week, Martorano said the news that his former boss worked with law enforcement "broke my heart" and prompted him to break the gang's code of silence and testify.