BOSTON — A former hit man who admitted killing 20 people insisted Wednesday that he told authorities the truth when he implicated James “Whitey” Bulger in 11 slayings, but he acknowledged lying in the past, including to a close friend just before he shot him in the head.
John Martorano is one of three former Bulger loyalists who agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and testify against Bulger at his racketeering trial. Bulger is accused of playing a role in 19 killings during the 1970s and ‘80s.
On Wednesday, Martorano’s third day on the witness stand, he endured a stinging cross-examination by Bulger attorney Hank Brennan, who repeatedly challenged his truthfulness and his motives in testifying against Bulger.
Martorano insisted that he told prosecutors the truth about the role of Bulger and his partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, in various killings, but Brennan suggested that Martorano was a chronic liar who fabricated or exaggerated Bulger’s involvement so he could get a reduced sentence for his own crimes.
Martorano served 12 years in prison after he cut a deal with prosecutors and agreed to testify against Bulger.
Brennan brought up the 1982 killing of Boston businessman John Callahan, whom Martorano described as a close friend.
“You even lied to your best friend, John Callahan, before you murdered him,” Brennan said.
“Correct,” Martorano replied. “To me that was a necessity. I couldn’t tell him I wanted to shoot him.”
Brennan also pointed out inconsistencies between what Martorano told investigators in the late 1990s and what he now says happened.
Martorano acknowledged that he originally told investigators that Flemmi was sitting next to him in a car and fired shots at James “Spike” O’Toole as he stood behind a mailbox on Dec. 1, 1973. O’Toole was killed because he had shot and wounded Flemmi’s brother.
Flemmi was a fugitive hiding in Montreal at the time of the shooting.
“It was somebody else in the back seat, not Flemmi,” Martorano said. “I was in error and corrected it.”
Jurors were shown photos of the mailbox riddled with bullets and images from seven other killings, featuring shot-up cars with shattered glass and blood on the seats. One photo showed a man lying dead on the floor of a phone booth.
Tommy Donahue, who says his father, Michael Donahue, was killed by Bulger in 1982, told reporters outside court that it was “sickening” for him to see photos of the car in which his father died. Donahue, who was 8 when his father was shot, said the car belonged to his grandfather.
“To see it riddled with bullets and know my father was killed in it, it was heart-wrenching, to say the least,” he said.
Prosecutors say Michael Donahue died when Bulger and another man opened fire on the car as Donahue gave a ride home to Bulger’s target, Edward Brian Halloran.
Martorano also acknowledged that he knew he faced a possible death penalty for killings in Oklahoma and Florida when he decided to strike a deal with prosecutors and implicate Bulger and Flemmi.
Brennan also asked Martorano if he had profited from his crimes.
Martorano said he had been paid $250,000 by a film company for the rights to his life story and could get another $250,000 if the company ends up making a movie. He said he’s also received about $70,000 from a book, “Hitman,” written by Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr.
Brennan asked Martorano if he thought about how seeing the book in bookstores could hurt the families of the people he killed.
“I didn’t try to hurt anybody with the book,” he said, adding that he used the money to support his family.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Fred Wyshak tried to rehabilitate Martorano’s credibility, going through 11 killings and asking him if he and Bulger were involved in each.
“Correct,” Martorano replied each time.
Bulger, 83, was one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives when he fled Boston in 1994 after being tipped to an upcoming indictment by former FBI agent John Connolly. He was captured in SantaMonica, Calif., in 2011.
Prosecutors say Bulger was a longtime FBI informant who was protected by Connolly and other agents in the Boston office. Bulger’s lawyers deny that he was an informant and say he paid FBI agents to warn him about investigations of him and his gang’s illegal activities, including bookmaking, extortion and loan-sharking.
Bulger, pronounced BUHL’-jur, denies participating in the 19 killings.
Relatives of some of the people who died are expected to testify Thursday.