BOSTON (Reuters) - An expert witness at the murder trial of Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger on Thursday described finding the bodies of people his gang is accused of killing, some buried along beaches and preserved by salt water, which made identification easier.
The victims included Debra Davis, one of two women among the 19 people Bulger is charged with murdering or ordering killed in the 1970s and 1980s, while he ran Boston’s feared “Winter Hill” gang.
Davis was the girlfriend of Bulger associate Steven “The Rifleman” Flemmi and the two gangsters killed her because they feared she knew too much about their activities, authorities have said.
“This body was tightly flexed in what we would call a fetal position,” said forensic anthropologist Ann Marie Mires. “She was on her side.”
Davis had been murdered 19 years earlier, but investigators identified her by DNA in her hair, which had been preserved by salt water that seeped into her unmarked beach grave.
It was the second day the jury heard gruesome details of how the gang led by Bulger, for many years on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most wanted list, allegedly disposed of murder victims.
Bulger’s story inspired Martin Scorsese’s 2006 Academy Award-winning film “The Departed,” in which Jack Nicholson starred as character loosely based on Bulger.
Mires recalled exhuming bodies, Claddagh rings, and fragments of clothing from the Neponset River, where Davis was found, and Tenean Beach.
Bulger, 83, faces the possibility of life in prison if convicted on charges related to the killings, racketeering and drug dealing. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges, though through his lawyers he has admitted that he was an extortionist, loan shark and drug dealer whose profession was “organized criminal.”
Bulger climbed to the top of Boston’s mob scene while the FBI was focused on taking down the Italian mafia. He developed a close relationship with an FBI agent in Boston, John Connolly, who shared his Irish background and South Boston upbringing.
The FBI developed a 700-page informant file on Bulger, though the gangster had denied giving information to Connolly, who is serving a 40-year sentence after being convicted on murder and racketeering charges.
Bulger’s attorneys have argued that the gangster paid Connolly for tips but offered none of his own.
Bulger fled Boston after a 1994 tip from Connolly that arrest was imminent. He avoided the law for 16 years until the FBI caught him in Santa Monica, California.
One of Bulger’s attorneys, J.W. Carney, asked U.S. District Judge Denise Casper to adjourn the trial until Tuesday to give the defense team time to catch up with evidence, saying expert witnesses were the most difficult part of the trial process. The trial is in its fifth week.
“We cannot simply accept that the expert got it right and not contest it until we’ve talked to our experts,” he said.
Prosecuting attorney Zachary Hafer objected and said upcoming testimony would be “unremarkable” and related to evidence that had already been introduced. He said the government should be able to finish its case by the end of next week, well ahead of schedule.
The judge signaled that she was not inclined to grant the request but agreed to shorten court hours in a nod to Bulger’s advanced age.
Bulger’s trial had originally been expected to run through September. Prosecutors told the judge they would need 12 weeks to work through their witnesses and the defense expected to take another month to make its case.
Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou, Toni Reinhold