BOSTON — The families of people killed by South Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger and his gang finally got the chance Wednesday to tell Bulger how his long reign of terror damaged their lives, calling him a “terrorist,” a “punk” and even “Satan.”
A stone-faced Bulger refused to look at them, again declared his trial a sham and didn’t take his opportunity to address the judge.
Bulger, his back to the families, stared straight ahead and scribbled on a legal pad as a dozen relatives stood one by one in a packed courtroom and poignantly described the loss of their loved ones and their contempt for Bulger.
The son of a man who was gunned down by Bulger in 1974 addressed Bulger as “Satan” and described how his father, a member of a rival gang, first disappeared in 1974 but wasn’t found until decades later when his body was discovered in a watery grave.
Sean McGonagle was 11 when his father, Paul, disappeared. He said Bulger called his family’s house the following year and said, “Your father won’t be coming home for Christmas.” When he asked, “Who’s this?” Bulger responded, “Santa Claus,” McGonagle said.
“You’re a domestic terrorist fueled by greed and sickening evil,” McGonagle said.
Several family members blasted corrupt FBI agents for protecting Bulger for years while he was working simultaneously as a crime boss and an FBI informant who ratted out the rival New England Mafia and other crime groups.
David Wheeler, the son of a Tulsa, Okla., businessman who was shot between the eyes by a hit man for Bulger’s gang, delivered a blistering condemnation of both the FBI and the Justice Department, which successfully argued to have his family’s wrongful death lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that it was filed too late.
“They are as responsible for that murder as the defendant here sitting before you,” Wheeler said.
He called Bulger a “government-sponsored assassin” but said the “greatest shame of all” falls on the FBI.
Former Boston FBI agent John Connolly Jr. — Bulger’s handler when he was an informant — was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of tipping the gangster off ahead of an indictment. After receiving the tip in 1994, Bulger fled Boston and remained a fugitive for more than 16 years until he was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011. Connolly was later convicted of second-degree murder in Florida for leaking information to Bulger that led to the slaying of a gambling executive.
Judge Denise Casper asked Bulger if he wanted to speak, but he declined. She was slated to hand down Bulger’s sentence Thursday.
Prosecutors have recommended two consecutive life sentences, plus five years. Lawyers for the 84-year-old Bulger declined to make a recommendation.
Attorney Hank Brennan said Bulger refused to participate in the sentencing process because he believes his trial was a “sham.” During the trial, Bulger used the same word when he explained to the judge why he decided not to testify in his own defense.
Bulger claims that a now-deceased federal prosecutor had given him immunity to commit crimes in exchange for Bulger’s offer to protect him from the Mafia. The judge refused to allow Bulger to use that claim as a defense to his long list of crimes, including murders.
Outside court, Bulger attorney J.W. Carney Jr. said despite Bulger’s stoic exterior, he was not “immune” to the emotion shown by victims’ families.
“He was affected by it,” Carney said.
Several family members implored Bulger to face them while they spoke. He refused, but did turn his head slightly to glance at two people. One was Steve Davis, the brother of Debra Davis, the 26-year-old girlfriend of Bulger’s former partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi.
A federal jury convicted Bulger in August in a racketeering indictment that included murder, extortion, money-laundering and weapons charges. The jury convicted Bulger in 11 out of the 19 killings he was charged with participating in during the 1970s and ‘80s but acquitted him of seven killings and issued a “no finding” in Davis’ murder.
Flemmi testified that Bulger strangled Davis, but his testimony was contradicted by another Bulger associate who said Flemmi once said he himself had “accidentally” strangled Davis.
“I hope Whitey dies the same way my sister did — gasping for breath as he takes his last breath,” said Steve Davis.
Prosecutor Brian Kelly said Bulger has been getting arrested since Harry Truman was president and called him “a little sociopath.”
“The carnage that he has caused is grotesque,” Kelly said.
“The victims in this case will never be able to regain what he has taken from them, but hopefully they will be able to take some solace from the fact that he will spend the rest of his miserable life in jail,” he said.