BOSTON (Reuters) - The murder and racketeering trial of mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger took a macabre turn on Wednesday, as jurors heard from a witness who described gruesome details of the exhumed bodies of three of the gang’s victims from a Boston field.
Referring to photos of remains shown in court, forensic anthropologist Ann Marie Mires explained how investigators used earth-moving machines, hand trowels and brushes to dig out leg and foot bones buried 7 to 8 feet deep in the ground.
A day earlier, former Bulger associate Kevin Weeks recalled first burying three bodies in the dirt-floored basement of a house in South Boston in the early 1980s, and later digging them up to move them to the Dorchester field when the house was put up for sale.
Among the victims was 26-year-old Deborah Hussey, the stepdaughter of Bulger associate Steven “The Rifleman” Flemmi. Investigators, led to the grave in January 2000 by Weeks, found leg bones, ribs and pelvises - suggesting at least two people were buried - as well as black plastic bags that may have been used to move the bodies, Mires said.
In her testimony on the exhumations, Mires said teeth had been pulled from the skulls exhumed from the grave. A day earlier, Weeks had testified that Flemmi removed the gang’s victims’ teeth, a move intended to make the bodies harder to identify.
“There’s extensive damage on the mandible,” Mires said, in reference to a photo of a skull tagged with Hussey’s name.
Holding a plastic skull for demonstration purposes, Mires described a “zone of destruction” she found at the base of the skull of another victim, Arthur “Bucky” Barrett.
“As (the bullet) went through, it blew this bone apart,” she said, referring to the lower jaw. The damage was consistent with a gunshot to the back of the head, she added, a method of death consistent with the testimony of prior witnesses who have given details during the five-week trial of the crimes Bulger is accused of committing.
Bulger, who spent 16 years evading arrest before authorities caught up with him in a seaside apartment in California, is on trial for charges including 19 murders he is accused of committing or ordering in the 1970s and 1980s, while he ran Boston’s feared “Winter Hill” gang.
Bulger, who was on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list for much of his time on the run, has entered a not guilty plea to all charges, though his attorney has described the 83-year-old defendant as an “organized criminal” involved in extortion, loan sharking and drug dealing.
Bulger’s story inspired Martin Scorsese’s 2006 Academy Award-winning film, “The Departed”, in which Jack Nicholson played a character loosely based on Bulger.
Bulger’s defense has focused much of its effort on denying the government’s claim that he was an FBI informant. Through his attorneys, Bulger contends that he paid corrupt FBI agent John Connolly for information, but provided none of his own. Connolly is now serving a 40-year sentence on murder and racketeering charges. Bulger fled Boston after a 1994 tip from Connolly.
Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Paul Thomasch, Bernadette Baum and Bernard Orr