The verdict

Whitey Bulger’s date with a jury had been decades in the making. It came to a close yesterday, as the former crime boss stood in a South Boston courtroom and heard the word “guilty” repeated 31 times. Bulger fell for racketeering, weapons charges, money laundering, and participating in 11 murders. He’ll likely spend the rest of his life behind bars. Yesterday’s verdict doesn’t bring the Bulger saga to a close, though. Some of Bulger’s victims are gearing up for another round of courtroom battles, while others have been left with an unsettling lack of closure, knowing that the gangster had a hand in their loved ones’ deaths, but unable to hear a jury concur.

The Bulger jury was unwilling to pin eight of the 19 murders before them on Bulger. These included a spate of 1970s gangland hits (some intentional, some mistaken), as well as the murder of Debra Davis, the onetime girlfriend of Bulger’s former partner, Stephen Flemmi. Herald columnist Margery Eagan watched yesterday as William O’Brien, Jr., the son of one of the victims the jury couldn’t connect to Bulger, told Davis’s brother, Steven Davis, “My father continues to get dirt kicked in his face. Your sister continues to get dirt kicked in her face.” O’Brien tells Eagan that Bulger’s lawyer admitted that Bulger had been the getaway driver in his father’s murder. The jury also didn’t find Bulger responsible for the death of Buddy Leonard, whose body was found in the car of Bulger victim Tommy King. “What, did they think my father walked to that car?” Leonard’s daughter asks. “Everyone in South Boston knew who killed my father. This was no justice. I will not step back in that building again.”

WBUR’s David Boeri says that, in the end, the Bulger trial ended up being small and narrow rather than the big picture view of the crimes the families of victims had hoped for. Bulger escaped responsibility for the early murders, Boeri says, because the jury couldn’t trust the word of former Bulger partner John Martorano. Martorano was the first of Bulger’s crew to flip and cooperate with federal investigators, and for his troubles, he got just 12 years in prison for 20 murders. “Yeah, we had sleepless nights making a deal with him,” former State Police investigator Tom Foley tells Boeri. “None of us really wanted to do that.” Martorano’s cooperation helped put Bulger’s former FBI handler John Connolly away for murder in Florida. But at the Moakley Courthouse, Martorano created enough doubt among the jury to let Bulger evade responsibility for more than a half-dozen killings.

Against the backdrop of today’s glistening South Boston waterfront, Kevin Cullen says Bulger is “not even dead yet, but a ghost.” Still, Bulger is almost beside the point now. His fate was sealed two years ago, when he was flown back east from his Santa Monica hideout. His trial made official what the world knew since 1998. What it didn’t do was close the loop on the federal corruption that enabled Bulger’s reign. David Wheeler did get the satisfaction of hearing a jury confirm that Bulger was involved in his father’s murder. He’s awaiting Bulger’s eventual capital murder case in Oklahoma. Still, Wheeler tells Peter Gelzinis, Bulger’s trial was most notable for what it lacked:  “I hear somebody said they got the minnow, but the whale’s still out there swimming around. We got one small, virulent piece of the evil and corruption that took my father’s life. But we still seem to ignore the greater evil and deeper corruption that enabled Whitey Bulger to keep a stable of killers around him for years … The FBI was there all along.

“What do you do when you don’t feel as if you have a voice in the courtroom? Whitey Bulger’s been made to answer for my father. But my family and I continue to believe that the corruption goes so much deeper into the government.”

                                                                                                                                                                     –PAUL MCMORROW


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