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In federal court in Boston today, mobster James Whitey Bulger was stared down by his old partner in crime. Stephen Flemmi, nicknamed The Rifleman, is now helping the government try to put Bulger behind bars for life. The 79-year-old Flemmi is a key prosecution witness in the racketeering and murder case against Bulger. And on the same day that Flemmi took the stand, there was another strange development outside the court.
NPR's Tovia Smith joins us now. And, Tovia, let's start with that new development, it's this - that a man was found dead who was on the government witness list to testify at this trial.
TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: That's right. It was Stephen Rakes. He was 59. His body was found yesterday. He was a man who claimed he was extorted at gunpoint by Bulger because Bulger wanted the liquor store that Rakes owned. Another witness had told us a bit of a different story, so Rakes was very eager to testify. And he was very upset on Tuesday when he was told by prosecutors that he would not be called.
Authorities say they have not yet determined the cause of death, but friends say they cannot fathom that Rakes would have taken his own life. And some admit to being a little rattled by this. For example, Steve Davis - who is a friend of Rakes and whose sister was allegedly a Bulger victim - as he put it, he said, I don't want to go back to the '80s when we were all looking over our shoulders and worrying about our families. But Davis said this is suspicious and it does make you nervous, he said.
BLOCK: And Stephen Rakes had been a regular presence in the courtroom, right?
SMITH: Indeed, with Steve Davis.
BLOCK: The big witness who did testify today, Tovia, was Stephen Flemmi and he was on the stand only briefly. What did he say?
SMITH: Well, he just got started minutes before court adjourned. But even in that short time there was no shortage of drama. This was the first time these two former partners and close friends have seen each other in decades. And I should say, this trial is probably going to be the last time, since Flemmi is serving a life sentence and Bulger is facing one.
Today, these two confronted each other with glares. Flemmi called Bulger and obscenity and the two exchanged unpleasantries. And this was after Flemmi testified that he and Bulger were both informants for the FBI. Flemmi says they did it hundreds of times. And we have seen already at this trial that being called a rat is exactly what gets Bulger to lose his cool in court. He insists he was never an informant. He was only buying information, not giving any. This is important to him, apparently.
His attorney has said that being a rat was about the worst thing in Bulger's mind that anyone could be. And Flemmi is testifying that he was exactly that.
BLOCK: And Flemmi, a key prosecution witness here, is going to be back on the stand tomorrow. What else are folks expecting to hear from him?
SMITH: He will probably talk about Bulger's role in murders, specifically two women. Again, this is something that Bulger maintains he did not, would not do - like being an informant, against his code.
BLOCK: OK. That's NPR's Tovia Smith, speaking with us from Boston about the trial of James Whitey Bulger. Tovia, thanks.
SMITH: Thank you.
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