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Judge raps US over Bulger civil trial

Says victims, families were unfairly blamed

By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / September 25, 2010

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A federal judge in Boston yesterday found that the Justice Department tried to humiliate and embarrass the families of two women who were murdered by longtime FBI informants James “Whitey’’ Bulger and Stephen “the Rifleman’’ Flemmi by unfairly blaming the victims for their own deaths during a lengthy civil trial last year over a wrongful death suit brought against the agency.

US District Judge William G. Young ordered the government to pay $5,000 each to the families of Debra Davis and Deborah Hussey, who were slain in the 1980s, for legal fees that resulted from “responding to a meritless defense raised with the sole purpose of embarrassing’’ the women’s families.

The government had argued that both women and their families were negligent because they had personal relationships with Flemmi that put them at risk.

In a separate ruling yesterday, Young refused to reconsider his earlier finding that the Justice Department must pay hefty legal fees to the mother of another Bulger victim, John McIn tyre of Quincy, for acting in bad faith by deliberately withholding evidence of FBI corruption in a bid to get that case dismissed before it went to trial four years ago.

The government already had been found liable for all three deaths because of the FBI’s mishandling of Bulger, who fled in 1995 and remains a fugitive wanted for 19 murders, and Flemmi, who is serving a life sentence for 10 slayings. But Young’s rulings condemn the way Justice Department lawyers from Washington defended the civil cases.

“To blame these victims is a little beyond the pale, and I think that’s why he sanctioned them,’’ said Milton lawyer Paul J. Griffin, who represents the Davis family. “It’s always rankled our family, and I’m sure it’s rankled all the families, to even suggest that somehow they had a hand in bringing on their own deaths.’’

Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, declined to comment on the rulings.

During the trial in federal court last summer, Flemmi, who is cooperating with the government, testified that he lured the 26-year-old Davis, his girlfriend of nine years, to a vacant house in South Boston on Sept. 17, 1981, and watched as Bulger strangled her. He said Davis, who was about to leave him for another man, knew about the corrupt relationship between the two men and the FBI, and they feared she might tell.

Flemmi testified that Bulger strangled Hussey, 26, the daughter of Flemmi’s longtime girlfriend, Marion Hussey, in January 1985 as he watched. That murder, he said, came months after Hussey told her mother that Flemmi had had a sexual relationship with her when she was a teenager.

Last year Young ruled the government was liable for the killings, then in January awarded damages of $1.35 million for Davis’s family and $219,795 for Hussey’s family.

Yesterday, Young found that the government had no basis to argue that Davis assumed the risk of her own murder by her relationship with Flemmi; or that the Davis and Hussey families were negligent because they had a duty to report violent and criminal behavior by Flemmi.

“As the government’s comparative negligence defense was unfounded and baseless, this court can infer from the record that it was made for harassing and embarrassing reasons,’’ he wrote.

He said the government acted in bad faith when it said that Flemmi had supported Marion Hussey for more than 30 years in a mansion and argued, “That’s all blood money coming to her from Flemmi from his life of crime, and she comes in here, says it’s not my fault . . . she washed his clothes after he cut the teeth out of all these people.’’

In the McIntyre case, the late US District Judge Reginald C. Lindsay awarded $3.1 million to McIntyre’s mother and brother after finding the FBI’s handling of Bulger and Flemmi caused the slaying of the fisherman. Flemmi testified that he and Bulger killed the 32-year-old McIntyre in 1984 after an FBI agent warned them that McIntyre was cooperating with authorities, and had implicated them in a plot to ship weapons to the Irish Republican Army.

In yesterday’s ruling, Young said the government failed to disclose prior to trial that Flemmi had implicated the now-former agent, John J. Connolly Jr., and engaged in “duplicity pure and simple.’’ Connolly is in federal prison after being convicted of racketeering, obstruction of justice, and murder conspiracy charges.

He ordered the government to pay the McIntyres’ legal fees and costs, but ordered the family’s lawyers to reduce a bill they had submitted seeking $2.1 million.

“Not only was the underlying conduct of the relationship with Bulger and Flemmi appalling, but with the government’s conduct in defending these civil cases the misconduct continued,’’ said William E. Christie, a New Hampshire lawyer who represents the McIntyres.

“I think the public has a right to expect more from its government, and it’s a very sad day.’’

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com