JEFFREY BROWN: And finally tonight: murder, drug deals, gangsters, and a decades-long crime spree. It’s all on display at the trial of a reputed Boston mob boss.
Judy Woodruff has our update in a conversation she recorded yesterday.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The trial is on break for the holiday, but for several weeks, prosecutors have been making their case against James “Whitey” Bulger.
Testimony at times has portrayed him as a cold-blooded-killer-turned-FBI-informant, as well as a drug lord feared on the streets of South Boston in the ’70s and ’80s. Convicted murderers, drug dealers, bookies and former FBI authorities have all been called to the stand. So have sons, daughters, siblings and girlfriends of those allegedly murdered by Bulger and the mob.
Kevin Cullen, a reporter and columnist for The Boston Globe, has been there for all of it. He’s the co-author of a book about the Bulger.
Kevin Cullen, thank you for being with us again.
Again, tell us about the most powerful testimony you have been listening to.
KEVIN CULLEN, The Boston Globe: Well, Judy, I think it’s interesting because obviously a lot of the people that have testified against Whitey Bulger are from the wrong side of the tracks. They’re criminal themselves.
There is a corrupt FBI agent named John Morris who just spent a few days on the stand. And these are nefarious people. And particularly the hit man John Martorano, who was up there for several days, I described in one of my columns that after the first two days of his testimony, we were hit by punishing rains.
He’s such a venal and vile man who has admitted to murdering 20 people, that it was almost as if there was a higher power that needed to wash us of our having to listen to this guy. But I think the most powerful testimony over the last two weeks has come from ordinary people, because there was a myth that the government, particularly the FBI and the Justice Department, wanted you accept when it came to Whitey Bulger is that he only killed other criminals.
Well, that died on the waterfront of South Boston with a man named Michael Donahue in 1982. And his family has been in court every day for the last few weeks. And, yesterday, John Morris, that corrupt FBI agent who helped get Michael Donahue murdered, turned to the family and apologized to them.
Now, that murder happened 31 years, ago and this is the first time anyone remotely connected to this government has apologized to the Donahue family. It was Pat Donahue, Michael’s widow, who raised three boys on her own after her husband was murdered with FBI complicity. As she said to me, it’s a little late for an apology.
But — and the — but if you look at the Donahue family, the way they have been dragged through the mud by their own government, the idea that the FBI got their husband and their father killed is one thing, but the Justice Department refused to apologize to them, refused to settle with them, dragged them through nine years of litigation.
And so to see that apology in the court was one of the most emotional moments. And it really had nothing to do with testimony. It really wasn’t evidence. It was just a sign of emotion and humanity in a place where that has been sorely lacking.
JUDY WOODRUFF: There are so many pieces to this story, Kevin Cullen. How altogether has the prosecution tried to portray Bulger?
KEVIN CULLEN: Well, I think, Judy, in your buildup, you described it perfectly.
They have described him as a cold-blooded murderer. They have described him as an FBI informant. And they have described him as somebody who allowed drugs to go through South Boston, where there were some people, sycophants of him and particularly of his politician brother, Bill Bulger, who said that Whitey kept drugs out of Southie.
Now, I lived there in the ’80s and ’90s, and I knew that was baloney because there were drugs everywhere in South Boston. In the last couple of days, drug dealers have begun to get on the stand, and they will continue to get on the stand, and what they have been testifying to today is that Whitey Bulger took a cut of everything in that town. He took millions of dollars from the drug trade, but put out the charade that he wasn’t involved in drugs, that he actually chased drug dealers out of South Boston.
That was the other myth that he and his apologists propagated. But there was a drug dealer named Billy Shea up there today, and he explained how Whitey actually sent him to set up a cocaine business, but instructed him, make sure that nobody knows I’m involved. But every week, Whitey was getting his cut.
Sometimes, it was little as $3,000 dollars a week. Sometimes, when they got into cocaine in a big way in the 1980s, Whitey Bulger was getting $10,000 dollars a week for overseeing that drug empire.
JUDY WOODRUFF: I gather, though, that Bulger is acknowledging that he did a lot of these things, his role in some of the murders, the drug deals, but it’s the idea of being an informant for the FBI that he rejects. How does that fit into what his defense is saying?
KEVIN CULLEN: Right.
Well, so far, Judy, that is the essence of his defense. And from a legal perspective, it’s quite odd, because Whitey Bulger is facing more than 30 counts in a racketeering indictment, 19 of which refer to murders. But Whitey Bulger is not charged with being an informant. That’s not a crime.
But his defense is spending almost 90 percent of its argument in its cross-examination of witnesses hammering at the point. They’re arguing a technicality. They’re saying that Whitey Bulger never signed his informant reports, he never gave his fingerprints, he never allowed his photograph to be taken and put with his informant reports.
But, as somebody who has covered this world for a long time, Judy, that’s specious. That is a specious argument. It’s pretty obvious, like I said, that the public record is going in there. There are all these reports. The defense is arguing that the reports were totally made up by one agent, John Connolly, his handler, and John Morris, the corrupt supervisor who just testified.
JUDY WOODRUFF: So, it sounds as if — only in a few seconds left, Kevin Cullen, it sounds like they’re not putting up much of a defense, is what you are saying.
KEVIN CULLEN: Well, like I said – I remember talking to Gwen about this a couple weeks ago, Judy, and I said that the defense went in there and copped to about 80 percent of the indictment.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.
KEVIN CULLEN: They admitted that he’s a racketeer and extortionist, so they’re very specific. They’re arguing that he’s not an informant, and they hope that while he admits to all these other things, that he will be able to convince the jury he didn’t kill those women, the two women he’s charged with. That’s what he can’t live with.
And I think the strategy is if — look, I have admitted to these other things. Why won’t you believe me when I say I didn’t kill these women?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Kevin Cullen with The Boston Globe.
The trial resumes on Monday.
KEVIN CULLEN: Thank you, Judy.