Mobster 'Whitey' Bulger Gets Two Life Terms And Then Some

Convicted mobster James "Whitey" Bulger was sentenced Thursday to two life terms in prison plus five years for crimes he committed, which included 11 murders. The 84-year-old Bulger is expected to appeal, but it seems likely that he'll spend the rest of his life behind bars.

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Victims wept in court today as a federal judge sentenced Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger to two life terms in prison, plus five years, ensuring that the now 84-year-old will never walk free. Bulger was convicted in August of running a massive racketeering operation that spanned decades and included extortion, drug running and at least 11 murders. NPR's Tovia Smith was in court and joins us now. Hi, Tovia.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: It was very emotional when victims spoke about the pain in court yesterday, what about today, for the sentence that most everyone expected?

SMITH: Right. No surprise here but still dramatic. The judge began by saying, quote, "I don't even know where to start. The scope, the callousness, the depravity of your crimes," she said, "are almost unfathomable." And all made worse, she said, by Bulger's decision to run and hide for 16 years. The judge also took a shot at Bulger's ego, kind of knocking him down a notch, saying he doesn't represent the city, and you know it doesn't take a genius business guy, she said, to take money from folks at the other end of a gun.

And, you know, Bulger has always perpetuated this idea of himself as kind of a good bad guy, keeping order in the streets of South E. But as prosecutors put it, this trial busted that myth and the legend of Whitey Bulger is now finally over.

SIEGEL: And, Tovia, tell us about victims' reaction to Bulger being put away for the rest of his life.

SMITH: Some satisfaction, for sure. Let me let you hear a little bit of the emotion from Tom Donahue whose father was killed in 1982 by bullets that Bulger meant for someone else.

TOM DONAHUE: It took 31 years, six months, two days to finally get a conviction from somebody for my father. That old bastard is finally going to be in prison. He's going to die in prison. And you know what? It's bittersweet but it's a damn good feeling, is what it is.

SMITH: But at the same time, victim satisfaction was tempered by frustration that others who helped Bulger, other mobsters and corrupt law enforcement agents, have not paid for their crimes. Some got great leniency in exchange for their testimony, some were never even charged. And on this, victims and Bulger are on the same side and share the outrage that was expressed by Bulger's attorney, Hank Brennan.

HANK BRENNAN: We all know there's much, much more. And so, rather than divert the focus and blame one person, there should be a ledger where every single person who has accountability should be held responsible. And that simply hasn't happened.

SMITH: We asked the attorneys about Bulger's reaction to his sentence. In court, he showed zero emotion. He just stood still, almost like he wasn't even listening. In fact, when the judge told him to sit down at the end, he just kept standing there and his attorney had to nudge him to sit down.

You know, Bulger has called this trial a sham because he wasn't allowed to argue that he had a deal with prosecutors, basically a license to kill. And he's appealing his conviction based on that. But the judge today chided him, saying, you can say what you want but you had a fair trial.

SIEGEL: And there is another dimension to his sentence. In addition to prison time, he has to pay restitution to victims, no?

SMITH: Yes, nearly $20 million. So the 800,000 found in his apartment goes to victims, as will any moneys found in the future and any future earnings that might come from a Bulger book or movie also goes to victims.

SIEGEL: Tovia, thanks.

SMITH: Thank you.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Tovia Smith.

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