They called him a rat, a punk, and a coward — even Satan. And one voiced the unspeakable wish: that he could kill notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger with his own hands.
Relatives of Bulger’s numerous victims, speaking of loved ones lost and lives that had been broken, heaped hatred and scorn on him today in dramatic testimony in his sentencing hearing in federal court in Boston.
“This man has built up so much hate in my heart I’d like to strangle him myself,” said Steven Davis, whose sister, Debra, prosecutors say, was killed by Bulger. “I hope Whitey dies the same way my sister did, gasping for breath.”
Bulger, who reigned with terror in Boston’s underworld for decades before fleeing the city and living undercover in California for years, faces the prospect of spending the rest of his life behind bars. But before he is sentenced relatives of his victims, were allotted 10 minutes to speak, facing the 84-year-old killer in US District Court, describing the grievous impact of his crimes.
Lawyers for the formerly fearsome gangster shifted their chairs to look at the witnesses as they spoke but Bulger continued facing straight ahead, with his head down, scribbling on a pad of paper.
“You won’t even turn around and look at us, coward?” said Patrick Callahan, whose father, John, was slain by a hit man following Bulger’s orders in Florida in 1982.
At the end of the hearing, which lasted about an hour and a half this morning, Judge Denise J. Casper asked Bulger if he wanted to make a statment. Bulger rose and said, “No.”
Bulger is to be sentenced at 10 a.m. Thursday.
Outside the courthouse, defense attorney Hank Brennan said he didn’t want to comment because it was “a poignant moment for many of the people in that courtroom, and I’m reluctant to say much today to detract from the importance of what they said.”
Defense attorney Jay W. Carney Jr. said Bulger had been affected by the testimony. “I sat right next to him. I saw how he reacted to it, and I think it was in response to their words.”
Carney said Bulger felt he had not been given a fair trial because he was not able to testify about FBI corruption and an immunity agreement that Bulger claims he reached with federal prosecutors.
“The trial became a sham in his mind as a result. He did not want to validate the trial by participating directly, or indirectly through us, in the sentencing process. And so to have made a statement at the trial or to have turned directly and faced the people who testified today, would have been part of validating the trial,” Carney said.
In August, following an eight-week trial, jurors found Bulger participated in 11 murders while operating a sprawling criminal enterprise from the 1970s through the 1990s that trafficked in cocaine and marijuana; extorted drug dealers, businessmen, and bookmakers; and corrupted FBI agents and other law enforcement officials. He was convicted of 31 counts of racketeering, extortion, money laundering, and weapons possession.
In a sentencing memorandum filed last week, prosecutors said Bulger “has no redeeming qualities” and faces a mandatory term under federal sentencing guidelines of life in prison, followed by another life sentence for possessing machine guns and another five-year term for possessing handguns.
Jurors found that prosecutors proved Bulger participated in 11 of 19 murders he was accused of, including the strangulation of Deborah Hussey; the assassination of Tulsa businessman Roger Wheeler; and the slayings of Edward Connors, Paul McGonagle, Thomas King, Richard Castucci, Edward “Brian” Halloran, Michael Donahue, John Callahan, Arthur “Bucky” Barrett, and John McIntyre.
Jurors found prosecutors failed to prove Bulger participated in seven additional murders: Michael Milano, Al Plummer, William O’Brien, James “Spike” O’Toole, Al Notarangeli, James Sousa, and Francis “Buddy” Leonard. The jury was unable to reach a verdict on whether Bulger was involved in the 1981 strangulation of another woman, Debra Davis.
But Judge Casper ruled this morning that the families of all 19 people killed could speak at the sentencing hearing. Not all did. Some families skipped the hearing, saying they had seen enough of Bulger.
Tom Angeli, son of Al Notarangeli, said he wasn’t happy that the jury found prosecutors had failed to prove Bulger was linked to his father’s murder.
“You lured him in and then you executed him,” Angeli told Bulger. He said his father had a “honking diamond ring” and “you took it off his body.”
“I’ll be glad when I don’t see your face in the newspaper, or hear about you in the news,” Angeli said. “What happened in the 70s and 80s, what happened in this court is never going to go away. It’s always going to be a mark on history.”
Sean McGonagle, 49, whose father, Paul, was killed by Bulger in 1974, addressed him as Satan and said the electric chair would be too good for him.
“My father was no Boy Scout, but he was a better man than you’ll ever be,” McGonagle.
David Wheeler, son of Roger Wheeler, held up a picture of his father as he began his testimony.
“Shame on you, Mr. Bulger. For all your notoriety, you are a punk. And you don’t even matter anymore. ... Enjoy your retirement,” Wheeler said. “My family and I have nothing but contempt for you.”
Wheeler also lashed out at the FBI, saying FBI corruption was just as responsible as Bulger for his father’s death.
While some relatives spoke with bitterness, others used their time to remember their lost loved ones fondly and to express hope that the hearing would mark the beginning of healing.
Patricia Donahue, whose husband, Michael Donahue, was an innocent bystander shot by Bulger, said, “I want him to be remembered for the wonderful man he was.”
“He was the soul of our family ... gone in the blink of an eye,” she said.
Theresa Bond, daughter of Arthur “Bucky” Barrett, said she had forgiven Bulger.
Bulger’s defense team spent much of the trial on an apparently quixotic quest — trying to persuade jurors he was not an informant, despite a hefty FBI file that indicated he was one from 1975 to 1990 and provided information against members of his own gang, as well as the Mafia. Bulger’s lawyers said the gangster paid FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. and other agents for information, and Connolly fabricated the file to cover up their corrupt relationship.
Bulger’s former associates testified that he killed several men because Connolly warned him that they were informants and were cooperating against Bulger and his partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, another informant.
Flemmi testified that he and Bulger paid Connolly more than $235,000 in payoffs over the years, and former FBI supervisor John Morris testified that he pocketed $7,000 in bribes from the two gangsters and leaked them information.
Bulger was captured two years ago in seaside Santa Monica, Calif., after more than 16 years on the run from a worldwide manhunt.
His legend grew after revelations that he had been protected as a prized FBI informant while on his criminal rampage — and as evidence of FBI corruption emerged. His story has served as fodder for numerous books, movies, and TV shows. The parallel rise of his brother, William M. Bulger, to the presidency of the Massachusetts Senate and the presidency of the University of Massachusetts, heightened interest in the saga.