Whitey Bulger trial: Are underworld figures reliable witnesses? (+video)
Stephen 'The Rifleman' Flemmi, James 'Whitey' Bulger’s former crime partner, is spending days in the witness chair, pitting one less-than-reputable character against another.
In the trial of James “Whitey” Bulger, the former crime boss’s business partner is enduring multiple days in the witness chair for a simple reason: The prosecution views him as a source of vital evidence, and the defense wants to show that his information isn’t trustworthy.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Sentenced! James 'Whitey' Bulger
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So the days keep ticking by as Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi testifies.
We’ve learned that he doesn’t care for his nickname, which he got for exploits during military service in Korea.
We’ve learned that he has a sense of humor, but is also a self-described “aggressive” personality.
And now, after hearing his version of events in several alleged murders by Whitey Bulger, we’re learning more about the background behind his willingness to become a cooperating witness for the US government.
On Wednesday, defense attorney Hank Brennan got Mr. Flemmi to recount the difficult prison conditions he encountered back in 1999, and to say that those conditions “figured into my decision to cooperate.”
Whether admissions such as that damage Flemmi’s credibility in the eyes of jurors remains to be seen. But a central feature of this organized-crime trial, which has been running for some six weeks, is that it pits various less-than-reputable characters against one another.
The prosecution is leaning on various confessed criminals to go after another alleged malefactor. Although Bulger is pleading “not guilty” to 19 murders and other racketeering-related charges in the federal case against him, his attorneys have acknowledged that he was a professional criminal involved in illegal activities such as gambling and loansharking.
Defense lawyers are trying to cast doubt on the prosecution’s case by suggesting that the cooperating witnesses have benefited by being willing to say things – including lies – that help the government to build a case.
Bulger himself is a potential witness when the defense lays out its case, although he may end up waiving his right to testify. He spent 16 years on the run as one of the FBI’s “Most Wanted” before being caught in 2011.
His former crime partner, Flemmi, was questioned Wednesday about the conditions of a state prison in Walpole, Mass., where he was held.