Former hit man expected to testify in Bulger murder trial

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 17, 2013 5:17 AM

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

BOSTON (Reuters) - Jurors are expected to hear more grisly details about reputed mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger's reign of terror in Boston when a former hit man testifies against his ex-boss in the closely watched racketeering and murder trial on Monday.

Bulger faces a 32-count indictment that includes 19 murders he allegedly committed or ordered. The 83-year old, known as "Whitey" for the shock of blond hair he had even as a child, is accused of running Boston's "Winter Hill Gang" for decades and threatening to kill small-time criminals unless they paid protection money.

He has pleaded not guilty to all counts.

The trial marks the final chapter in one of Boston's longest-running crime dramas, bringing some closure to families of the 19 murder victims who are planning to come to the waterfront courthouse daily for the trial that is expected to last three to four months.

In last week's opening statements, prosecutors portrayed Bulger as a hands-on killer while Bulger's lawyer described him as a mild-mannered criminal who had engaged in illegal gambling, loansharking and drug dealing but not murder.

Jurors heard from two former bookmakers who made illegal bets on sports events and will hear more from one of them, Richard O'Brien, on Monday. Bulger's lawyer will then cross-examine him.

The police started to cultivate them as informants for leads on Bulger in the 1980s when officials tried to crack down on violent gangs in Boston.

On Friday the 84-year-old O'Brien, who had spent decades placing illegal bets on horse-racing and football games, told jurors of Bulger's threats.

"We have a business beyond bookmaking," O'Brien recalled Bulger telling him in a private meeting decades ago to settle a disagreement. "Killing assholes like you."

"Rather than being in the bookmaking business and taking the unknown gamble, they would take rent like you would for an apartment," O'Brien testified.

On Monday, the prosecution will also put on one of its star witnesses, John Martorano, who admitted to killing 20 people and served 12 years in prison.

Bulger's attorneys have raised questions about the reliability of the testimony of Martorano and Bulger associates Stephen Flemmi and Kevin Weeks who are also expected to take the stand. The men, Bulger's lawyers contend, fingered the mobster for murders he did not commit in exchange for lesser sentences for their own crimes.

Bulger fled Boston in 1994 after being tipped off that he would soon be indicted. In his 16 years on the run he was on the FBI's Most Wanted List of criminals. He was captured in 2011 in California.

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Richard Chang)