BOSTON (Reuters) - Mobster James “Whitey” Bulger heard a range of emotions on Wednesday from families of the people he was convicted of killing, with the son of one of his victims addressing Bulger as “Satan” and another warning him “hell must be too much to bear.”
But the 12 people who spoke at the U.S. District Court in Boston on the first day of a sentencing hearing for the 84-year-old former leader of the city’s Winter Hill gang heard little in return as Bulger uttered only one word, “no,” when asked by a judge if he had anything to say.
After a two-month trial that brought back memories of a dark time in Boston’s history, when machine-gun-toting gangsters assassinated rivals in broad daylight, shook down businessmen and buried bodies in shallow graves, Bulger in August was convicted in a sweeping racketeering trial of committing 11 murders during the 1970s and 1980s.
U.S. District Court Judge Denise Casper said she planned to issue her sentencing decision on Thursday. She is widely expected to send Bulger, whose story inspired the 2006 Academy Award-winning film “The Departed,” to prison for the rest of his life.
Federal prosecutors have asked her to sentence Bulger to two consecutive life terms without parole plus an additional five years.
On Wednesday, the children and spouses of some of Bulger’s victims described in the courtroom the toll that his crimes took on their lives.
Sean McGonagle addressed Bulger as “Satan” before recalling in 1974 how the defendant had murdered his father, Paul, when Sean was 11 years old.
“In 1975, you called and said, ‘Your father is not coming home for Christmas.’ When asked who this is, you stated, ‘Santa Claus,’” McGonagle said. “Today I hope we find some semblance of peace and closure.”
Theresa Barrett Bond, whose father Arthur “Bucky” Barrett was one of Bulger’s victims, told Bulger she forgave him for his crimes, but worried he would not live long enough to serve meaningful time in prison.
“Prison? You won’t be there long enough to suffer for the crimes you have committed ... but hell must be too much to bear,” Bond said. “Mr. Bulger, do you have remorse for taking my father’s life? I think you do. I forgive you.”
Bulger sat quietly in court throughout the proceedings and avoided looking at the people who testified. The judge heard testimony from survivors of both the 11 people he was convicted of murdering, as well as family members of eight other killings that Bulger was charged but not found guilty.
“He’s not a very brave man. Won’t even look at you,” David Wheeler, son of Roger Wheeler, who was assassinated by the Bulger gang in Oklahoma, told reporters after the hearing. “He’s a coward.”
Bulger’s attorneys said their client, who got the nickname “Whitey” for the shock of brightly colored hair he had as a youth, regarded his trial as a “sham” and had instructed them not to participate actively in the sentencing proceedings.
“The trial became a sham in his eyes,” attorney J.W. Carney told reporters after the hearing. “To have made a statement at the trial or to have turned and directly faced the people who testified today would have been part of validating the trial.”
Bulger long enjoyed the protection of a corrupt FBI agent who shared his Irish ancestry and was willing to turn a blind eye to his crimes in exchange for information he could use against the Italian-American Mafia, as well as cash and gifts, according to court papers and federal prosecutors.
Noting that Bulger’s defense had spent much of its energy at the trial arguing Bulger had never served as an informant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, rather than on denying the criminal charges, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly questioned Bulger’s assertion that the trial had been a “sham.”
“He desperately wants people to believe he wasn’t an FBI informant,” Kelly said. “That’s the sham in this case, not the trial.”
Bulger’s trial was raw, broken by outbursts in which former gangmates-turned-prosecution witnesses swore at the man who lived on the lam for 16 years, many of them on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list.
Bulger’s story has captivated the city for years. He rose from a South Boston housing project to become the most feared person in the city at the same time as his brother, William, became the president of the Massachusetts state Senate.
William never appeared during the trial, though a third brother, Jack, was a regular presence in the courtroom. He left without speaking to reporters on Wednesday.
In 1994, on a tip that arrest was imminent, he fled the city. Agents caught up with him in June 2011, living in a Santa Monica, California, apartment with his girlfriend, a cache of weapons and $800,000 in cash.
One of the jurors who found Bulger guilty attended the hearing on Wednesday and later told reporters she regretted the verdict, which she said had depended heavily on the testimony of close Bulger associates, John “The Executioner” Martorano and Kevin Weeks, both of whom served reduced sentences for their testimony.
“We were dependent upon the testimony of these criminals who had cut immoral deals with the U.S. Attorney’s office,” said the juror, Janet Uhlar-Tinney, of Eastham, Massachusetts.
She stopped short, however, of calling Bulger innocent.
Additional reporting by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Daniel Trotta, Maureen Bavdek, Colleen Jenkins and Diane Craft