BOSTON (Reuters) - The murder trial of James “Whitey” Bulger will resume Thursday with more testimony and photos from a former police officer who surveilled the alleged Boston mob boss as he met with associates in a garage more than 30 years ago.
In the opening of Bulger’s murder and racketeering trial on Wednesday, prosecutors described the suspect, who spent 16 years on the run before being captured in Santa Monica, California, in 2011, as being the leader of a criminal gang responsible for decades of “murder and mayhem.” Prosecutors say 19 people were killed by Bulger’s hand or at his order.
His lead attorney, J.W. Carney, cast Bulger, 83, as a mild-mannered gangster who ran loan-sharking, gambling and drug operations. He said Bulger’s former criminal associates sought to portray him as a violent killer in order to get their own sentences reduced.
Bulger, whose story inspired the 2006 Academy Award-winning movie “The Departed,” has pleaded not guilty to all charges including racketeering, money laundering and gun violations, as well as murder. He faces life in prison if convicted.
The trial began on Wednesday with former Massachusetts State Police Detective Lieutenant Inspector Robert Long reviewing surveillance photos and videos that showed Bulger speaking with members of his Winter Hill gang. They included Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi and people who Long said were members of other New England criminal organizations.
Long identified Bulger and his associates in a series of photos and videos, that showed them talking, counting money in a parked car and exchanging large paper bags. In one, Bulger idly held a knife in his hand as he chatted.
Long was to resume his testimony on Thursday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly recounted the stories of several of Bulger’s alleged murders, including cases where Bulger and Flemmi strangled their victims and Flemmi pulled the teeth from their jaws in hopes of keeping police from identifying the bodies.
Bulger rose to power in Boston crime circles in the 1970s, a time when the FBI and Justice Department were focused on stamping out the Mafia, which traced its roots to Italy. Bulger cooperated with FBI investigators who shared his Irish background, turning a blind eye to Bulger’s crimes in exchange for information on rival gangs, prosecutors contend.
Carney argued Bulger had never served as an informant, but instead paid the FBI’s former top agent in Boston, John Connolly, to be kept in the loop on investigations and to avoid arrest.
Connolly was convicted in 2008 of a murder charge tied to his work with Bulger.
After the FBI moved in on his gang in late 1994, Bulger went on the run and was put on the FBI’s list of “Ten Most Wanted” suspects before his arrest in California.
Carney denied prosecutors’ claim that Bulger fled Boston on a tip from Connolly, telling the court on Thursday that Bulger had learned of the arrests on the radio while driving home from an out-of-town vacation.
“Mr. Bulger turned around and did not drive to Massachusetts. He drove elsewhere,” Carney said. “It was something as mundane as that.”
Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Trott