Saturday, 2:15 PM
Jury begins deliberations in Connolly murder trial
By Shelley Murphy, Globe staff
MIAMI -- A Florida jury began its deliberations today in the murder trial of retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. The six-man, six-woman panel worked for an hour in the late afternoon on the case, in which the once-respected Boston lawman is accused of leaking information to gangsters that led to a business consultant's 1982 slaying.
Connolly's defense lawyer argued today that his client had acted "honorably'' when dealing with longtime informants James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi and never plotted with them to murder anybody.
"If I'm not mistaken, the government would want you to believe Mr. Connolly was some kind of rogue agent who was doing these things in his own best interest,'' said defense attorney Manuel L. Casabielle. "In reality, what Mr. Connolly was doing was the FBI's work. Him and other agents like him were the tip of the spear in the fight against the Mafia.''
In a closing statement that went for an hour yesterday afternoon and nearly three hours today, Casabielle urged jurors to find 68-year-old Connolly not guilty of charges of murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the slaying of John B. Callahan. He is accused of warning Bulger and Flemmi that Callahan, a former World Jai Alai executive, was being sought for questioning by the FBI and would likely implicate the gangsters in the 1981 slaying of World Jai Alai owner, Roger Wheeler.
"The fate of Mr. Connolly is in your hands,'' Casabielle said. "I'm asking you folks, in the name of justice, to return a verdict of not guilty.''
Yesterday, in its closing, the prosecution said Connolly was "signing the death warrant'' of Callahan when Connolly warned Bulger and Flemmi that Callahan might cooperate against the gangsters.
Hitman-turned-government-witness John Martorano testified at the trial that he lured Callahan to Florida and shot him after Bulger and Flemmi told him of Connolly's tip. Callahan's bullet-riddled body was found in the trunk of his Cadillac at Miami International Airport on Aug. 2, 1982.
Though Connolly, who retired in 1990 after 22 years, is only charged with Callahan's murder, the prosecution was allowed to present voluminous evidence during the seven-week trial of alleged corruption and wrongdoing by Connolly dating back to the 1970s.
Flemmi, who is serving a life sentence for killing 10 people, testified that Connolly routinely leaked information to him and Bulger -- prompting them to kill not just Callahan, but two FBI informants as well, one in 1976 and another in 1982.
Describing Connolly as another member of their gang, Flemmi testified that he and Bulger paid Connolly $235,000 in bribes, including payoffs each Christmas and before the agent went on vacation.
But the defense urged jurors to focus only on Callahan's murder and disregard the rest of the evidence, repeatedly accusing the state of using "the mud theory of prosecution'' by throwing numerous allegations into the case.
"Our system of justice does not allow convictions based on innuendo, character assassination or things that ring of truth,'' Casabielle said. "It requires the government to prove allegations charged in the indictment.''
The defense also argued that the FBI knew that Bulger and Flemmi were involved in murders, yet continued to use them as informants because they were providing valuable information that helped decimate the New England Mafia in the 1980s.
Casabielle said the FBI left Connolly to shoulder the blame alone when Flemmi was indicted on federal racketeering charges in 1995, along with the fugitive Bulger, and claimed that the FBI had authorized them to commit certain crimes.
"When it was good, it was good for everybody,'' Casabielle said. "When it was bad, it was only bad for John Connolly."
Connolly did not take the stand. If he had, jurors would have been told that he is a convicted felon. Connolly is serving a 10-year prison term for his 2002 federal racketeering conviction in Boston for protecting Bulger and Flemmi from prosecution and warning them to flee in advance of their 1995 indictment. Bulger, wanted for 19 murders, remains one of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted.
During his rebuttal, Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Michael Von Zamft, said, "John Connolly swore an oath to the FBI and to the United States of America; he held the public trust. ... He gave up the public trust because he decided that he would rather be a gangster than an FBI agent.''
Connolly, who sat at the defense table beside his lawyers, scowled as he listened to the prosecutor.
Von Zamft cautioned jurors that it's Connolly, and not the FBI on trial. He argued that the evidence overwhelmingly showed that Callahan was murdered because he was a threat to Bulger, Flemmi, Martorano and Connolly.
"Once he got in bed with them, once he became their friend, once he started taking money and gifts, John Connolly was their partner,'' Von Zamft said. "He was no longer an FBI agent. The only thing he used his FBI badge for was to participate in crime.''
The jurors, who deliberated from about 4:30 p.m. to about 5:30 p.m., will resume their work Wednesday morning. Before dismissing them, the judge reminded them not to discuss the case with anyone overnight.
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