Boston Jury Learns How Case Against Bulger Was Built

fromWBUR

After 16 years on the lam, Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger is on trial. His murder and racketeering trial is expected to last through the summer. Already testimony from government witnesses is raising questions about the justice system, and how the FBI cozied up to villainous characters to prosecute Bulger.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Let's get an update now on the trial on James "Whitey" Bulger. He's in a Boston courtroom accused of running a large criminal enterprise and killing 19 people. And thanks to a colorful cast of witnesses, several gangsters and wanted admitted hit men, jurors are now getting a much clearer picture of just how the government built its case against Bulger. From member station WBUR, Asma Khalid reports.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: The jury has listened to tale after tale of life in Boston's underworld from men who struck deals with the government to talk. First, jurors heard from John Martorano, nicknamed The Executioner. He's confessed to killing 20 people and received just 12 years in prison in exchange for cooperating with the government.

Then, yesterday, the court heard from John Morris who supervised the FBI's organized crime unit in Boston in the late 1970s and early '80s. He admitted taking bribes from Bulger and leaking sensitive information to him. Morris received immunity from the government in exchange for his cooperation. David Frank is a former state prosecutor who now works for Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly. He says it isn't unusual for the government to make deals with other bad guys to go after the criminal at the top of the pyramid. But the agreements in this case are more sweeping.

DAVID FRANK: So you're talking about not one person or not two people who have made deals but witness after witness who have entered into cooperation agreements in order to stay out of trouble.

KHALID: Disgraced FBI agent John Morris has admitted to passing along a tip about an FBI informant that eventually made its way back to Bulger. The informant and one of his friends were then murdered. On the stand yesterday, Morris turned toward the bench reserved for victims' families and teared up as he apologized for his actions, saying that not a day goes by that he doesn't pray God give them comfort for the pain they've suffered.

Later, outside the courthouse, Tommy Donahue said that apology was too little too late. Donahue's dad was one of the men allegedly killed by Bulger after Morris turned over sensitive information.

TOMMY DONAHUE: I'm appalled to even listen to him go up there and try to do an apology years after and knowing all the things he did and covered up.

KHALID: The defense hasn't put on its case yet though it's strategy appears to be to discredit the prosecution's witnesses. Again, David Frank.

FRANK: One of the things that the defense has done throughout the course of this trial is try to explain to the jury that the people who are testifying aren't testifying just because they're here to tell the truth. They're doing it because they're trying to stay out of trouble or they're trying to live up to their end of the deal.

KHALID: The next star witness for the prosecution is Bulger's former right-hand man, Kevin Weeks. He's scheduled to testify next week and he, too, stuck a deal with the government to cooperate on the Bulger case. For NPR News, I'm Asma Khalid in Boston.

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