Former hit man John V. Martorano today became the first witness in James “Whitey” Bulger’s federal trial to tie the notorious gangster to a murder. Martorano testified that he fatally shot Alfred “Indian Al” Notorangeli from a car in 1974, while Bulger rode in a second car, ready to cut off anyone who tried to interfere with the killing.
Martorano, who has previously admitted to murdering 20 people, said he shot and killed Notorangeli on Feb. 22, 1974, at the request of the Boston Mafia.
“I shot him,’’ Martorano said. He said that he, Bulger, and other members of their Winter Hill Gang, a separate group that accepted the assignment from the Mafia, drove back to their Somerville headquarters afterward.
Martorano is a key witness in the trial of Bulger, 83, who is charged in 32 counts of a racketeering indictment that alleges that while running a criminal enterprise from 1972 to 2000, he participated in 19 murders; extorted bookmakers, drug dealers, and businessmen; laundered his criminal profits through real estate transactions; and stockpiled an arsenal of weapons.
Martorano, 72, is someone with direct knowledge of Bulger’s alleged murderous exploits. But he is also a flawed witness because he has escaped with a light sentence for his own crimes, a fact that the defense could highlight to raise questions about his credibility.
Martorano also testified that James Bulger had recounted a conversation between his brother, William M. Bulger, a prominent politician who later rose to become president of the state Senate, and corrupt FBI agent John Connolly, who is serving time in prison for being in league with James Bulger.
“I owe you for keeping me honest, being an FBI agent, and staying out of trouble,’’ Connolly allegedly told William Bulger. “If there is anything I can do for you, let me know.’’
Martorano said James Bulger told him that William Bulger replied, “If you can keep my brother out of trouble, that would be helpful.’’
Martorano said Connolly quickly became an asset to the Winter Hill Gang. As a show of his appreciation, Martorano said, James Bulger gave Connolly a two-carat diamond ring shortly before Connolly got married.
The killing of Alfred Notorangeli came after Martorano had already mistakenly shot and killed Michael Milano, a 30-year-old North End bartender who drove a car similar to Notorangeli’s, on March 8, 1973, in Boston.
“He was the wrong guy, fair to say?” Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak asked Martorano.
“Wrong guy,’’ he said.
Martorano also described the continuing pursuit of Notorangeli, which included also murdering the prime target’s brother, Joseph Notorangeli. Martorano said he dressed like a meatcutter, drove to the Pewter Pot restaurant in Medford where he shot Joseph Notorangeli to death in April 18, 1973.
The murders of Alfred Notorangeli and Milano are among the 19 murders that federal prosecutors have linked to Bulger in the lengthy indictment against him.
Martorano also matter-of-factly described other murders he has committed, beginning with the two men he shot to protect his brother from being prosecuted for the 1964 murder of a waitress whose body was found in the family nightspot.
Martorano’s family once ran an after-hours place called Luigi’s that was favored by organized crime figures. When a waitress named Margaret Sylvester was found murdered on an upper floor, Martorano said he learned that two men were going to implicate his brother, Jimmy, in the slaying.
In response, he said, he tracked them down and shot and killed both men, Johnny Jackson and the woman’s boyfriend, Bobby Palladino. Palladino, whose body was found near North Station, was killed on Nov. 15, 1966. Jackson was murdered outside his Queensbury Street in Boston on Sept. 28, 1966.
One man, Herbert Smith, was targeted for murder after he laughed at Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, a cohort of both Bulger and Martorano in the Winter Hill Gang. “We decided to shoot him,’’ Martorano testified.
He said that he found Smith during a blizzard, walked up to a car Smith was in, and opened fire. Later, he learned that two other people — Elizabeth Dickson, 19, and Douglas Barrett, 17—were also killed from the barrage of gunfire he sent into the vehicle.
“I wanted to kill myself,” Martorano said. “I wanted to shoot myself.’’
Instead of committing suicide, however, Martorano went on to commit even more murders.
Once, while on a date with a woman, a man confronted him with a knife. Martorano turned the tables on his attacker.
“I took his knife and stabbed him,’’ Martorano said.
He also described how he shot and killed Ronald K. Hicks on March 19, 1969, in order to prevent him from testifying against two friends of Martorano’s. The friends had murdered three people but only wounded Hicks. Martorano said he decided the best way to help his friends was to end Hicks’s life.
Martorano earlier testified that he now lives on Social Security but admitted he had earned hundreds of thousands of dollars selling his life story and thousands more from the federal government after agreeing to testify against Bulger and other members of the Winter Hill Gang.
Martorano, who served just 12 years in prison for his crimes, testified that he had been paid $250,000 for the rights to his life by a movie producer, who has not yet made the movie. But if the movie is made and is successful, Martorano said, he could earn even more.
“I’m hoping,’’ said Martorano, who is currently living in Cambridge on his Social Security benefits.
He also testified that he split a $110,000 advance with Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr, who wrote on Martorano’s life. The killer testified that the title — “Hitman” — was Carr’s idea, not his.
“He thought it would sell better,’’ Martorano said of Carr. Though he has admitted to murdering people, he insisted he was never paid to kill anyone.
He also said he has earned $20,000 in royalties from the book.
Martorano said he was provided with money from the US Drug Enforcement Administration during his 12 years behind bars. He said the DEA put about $6,000 into his canteen account, which he then used to buy toothpaste and other items.
When he was freed in 2007, Martorano testified, he was offered the chance to join the witness protection program. He declined, but the government gave him $20,000 to help resume his life outside prison.
Martorano testified that he considered Bulger and Flemmi so close to him that he named one of his sons James Steven after them.
He called them “my partners in crime, my best friends, my children’s godfathers.’’
Martorano said he decided to testify against Bulger, Flemmi, and corrupt FBI agent John Connolly after learning that Bulger and Flemmi were informants for the FBI, handled by Connolly, during their criminal exploits.
“After I found out they were informants, it sort of broke my heart,’’ Martorano testified. “They broke all trust that we had, all loyalty.’’
Jurors were shown a copy of the plea agreement between authorities and Martorano, who was given a 14-year sentence, but was released in 2007, two years early.
Bulger’s legend grew when he eluded a worldwide manhunt for 16 years after the indictment in 1995 and when it was revealed that he had been protected by the FBI, which considered him a prized informant. Bulger has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is being held without bail.
Earlier this morning, retired bookie Richard O’Brien described how his daughter had a nervous breakdown just before she was to meet with Bulger and Flemmi to discuss how she could keep operating her father’s bookmaking business.
“She didn’t appreciate his history,” O’Brien testified.
Tara O’Brien took over her father’s gambling business in 1991, but she had heard that Flemmi had murdered his girlfriend, Debra Davis, in the early 1980s. (Flemmi has since testified that Bulger strangled Davis on Sept. 17, 1981, and that both men buried her in the marsh near the Neponset River. Bulger has denied he killed Davis.)
Appearing as a prosecution witness, O’Brien said his daughter was so traumatized by the thought of meeting with Flemmi that she had to be hospitalized.
“I visited her every day,’’ O’Brien, who is now 84, testified.