By Zachary Fagenson
MIAMI (Reuters) - A Florida appeals court on Wednesday reinstated the 2008 murder conviction of Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger's longtime FBI handler for providing information the gangster used to carry out a 1982 hit.
The state's full Third District Court of Appeals reversed its own decision of a year ago, which had found that the former agent, John Connolly, had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to 40 years in prison for his role in the murder of John Callahan, the president of sports betting operation World Jai-Alai.
Bulger's notorious Winter Hill gang had targeted Callahan for death because it wanted to take over the highly profitable operation.
In a 6-4 ruling, the full appeals court found that a three-judge panel had erred last year when it overturned Connolly's conviction for second-degree murder for providing information that Bulger's gang used to carry out Callahan's killing.
The decision hinged on whether a lower court acted properly in allowing a gun charge to be attached to the murder charge, which extended the statue of limitations. The appeals court on Wednesday upheld the lower court's decision.
"Because the reclassification of the defendant's conviction for second-degree murder was based on his personal possession of a firearm during the acts he committed during the commission of the murder ... the reclassification of the second-degree murder was not fundamental error," the majority wrote in its opinion.
Bulger was convicted of crimes including 11 murders he committed or ordered in the 1970s and '80s, including Callahan's. His 2013 trial revealed his corrupt relationship with federal law enforcement officials including Connolly, who turned a blind eye to the Irish-American gangster's crimes in exchange for information they could use against the Italian-American Mafia, then a top FBI target.
Lawyers for Bulger, who is serving two consecutive life terms in prison, argued in federal appeals court on Monday that his conviction should be overturned because he was not given a chance to testify. The judge had blocked Bulger from testifying that he had been granted immunity by a now-dead Justice Department official.
Connolly, a veteran FBI agent who retired in 1990 and has proclaimed his innocence, recruited Bulger as a mob informant. Bulger has denied serving as an informant, insisting that he paid agents for tips but provided none of his own.
(Writing by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Bill Trott)