First defense witness in Boston mob trial waffles on role in case

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 30, 2013 12:40 PM
First defense witness in Boston mob trial waffles on role in case

By Daniel Lovering

BOSTON (Reuters) - A prosecutor in the murder and racketeering trial of Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger on Tuesday attacked the credibility of the defense's first witness, a former FBI agent who published a book on the former mob boss.

The prosecutor, Brian Kelly, repeatedly asked former agent Robert Fitzpatrick whether he had been present on the cold January 2000 morning when some of the bodies of the 19 people Bulger is accused of murdering were exhumed, as Fitzpatrick claimed in his book, "Betrayal: Whitey Bulger and the FBI agent who fought to bring him down."

Fitzpatrick first said he did not recall if he had been present for the exhumation, then said the event was etched in his memory. That prompted Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly to ask Fitzpatrick if he was taking medication that had affected his memory, to which the beefy 73 year-old replied, "Not that I recall."

Fitzpatrick also said, "This book, as a memoir, is a recitation of many things."

He was the first witness called by Bulger's lawyers as they began to present their defense. Fitzpatrick told the jury on Monday that he did not believe Bulger had been a productive FBI informant as prosecutors contend.

It was unclear whether the former head of Boston's Winter Hill crime gang, will testify in his own defense on charges linked to 19 murders he is accused of committing or ordering in the 1970s and '80s.


Bulger, 83, has pleaded not guilty to all charges, though his attorneys have admitted their client was a drug dealer, extortionist, loan shark and "organized criminal."

But what his lawyers have argued most vociferously is that Bulger was not, as prosecutors contend, an FBI informant.

Fitzpatrick said he advised his superiors to close out Bulger as an informant, a move that would have allowed the bureau to begin investigating his crimes.

"They disagreed, they didn't do it, it was not done," Fitzpatrick said. "I didn't like it, there was nothing I could do about it ... The FBI wanted to keep Bulger open."

Bulger, who inspired the character played by Jack Nicholson in the 2006 Academy Award-winning film "The Departed," contends he paid corrupt FBI agents for information but provided none of his own.

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Becoming an informant, a "rat" in the parlance of Boston's Irish gangs was a severe breach of the mob code. During the first seven weeks of the trial, prosecution witnesses testified that Bulger killed several people because he was convinced they were talking, or might talk, to authorities.

Early in the trial, Bulger shouted curses at former associate Kevin Weeks when he testified that Bulger had been an informant.

Bulger fled Boston in 1994 after a tip from another FBI agent, John Connolly and remained on the lam for 16 years, many of them listed on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list. Agents caught Bulger in June 2011 living in a seaside apartment in Santa Monica, California, with about 30 guns and more than $800,000 in cash. Connolly is serving a 40-year sentence on murder and racketeering charges.

(Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Grant McCool)