Whitey Bulger prosecution rests: What does case add up to?

The prosecution's case features testimony of three former associates who say they witnessed Bulger planning or participating in killings, but it also ties Bulger to other crimes that could send him away for life.

By , Staff writer

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    This pair of file booking photos shows Stephen 'The Rifleman' Flemmi (l.) in 1974 from the Boston Police Department, and James 'Whitey' Bulger in 1984 from the FBI. Mr. Flemmi, a former partner of Mr. Bulger's who is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty to 10 killings, was one of three key prosecution witnesses that the defense says are unreliable.
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Federal attorneys tied a ribbon around their case against alleged killer and organized crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger Friday, presenting physical evidence found at the California apartment where he was arrested: guns, fake IDs, and stacks of cash totaling $822,000.

The prosecution rested its case after more than six weeks of witness testimony, bringing the man who long topped the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list closer to a jury verdict.

The defense will begin presenting its case – a much shorter one – Monday.

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Mr. Bulger, the reputed leader of a crime gang that was feared in Boston for more than two decades, faces a 32-count racketeering indictment, with alleged activities in his enterprise including money extortion, money laundering, and involvement in 19 murders.

Central to the prosecution case is the testimony of three former Bulger associates. Stephen Flemmi, Kevin Weeks, and John Martorano said they witnessed Bulger planning or participating in killings.

Sometimes, Bulger’s own hands were on a trigger or a victim’s throat, the witnesses said. In others cases, they alleged that he was a mastermind or drove a “crash car” to run interference if police chased a car with gunmen in it.

In some ways, the defense team is already finished with the biggest part of its work. In their opening statement, the defense attorneys asserted that key witnesses against Bulger are unreliable.

“They certainly have succeeded in meeting that promise,” says David Frank, an attorney and managing editor of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

Under cross examination, defense attorney Hank Brennan sought to paint the top prosecution witnesses as people who have lied, changed their testimony over the years, or cut deals for lighter sentences in return for what they could say in court as prosecution witnesses.

But Mr. Frank also says that the prosecution side has achieved its basic goals, bringing evidence tied to a range of charges – not just the murders – that could keep Bulger locked up for life.

Prosecutors led by Fred Wyshak will ask the jury “to consider … the cumulative nature of the evidence,” not just the value of any single piece, Frank says.

And on the murders, just because witnesses have credibility problems doesn’t mean the jury won’t find some of their evidence convincing. In the death of Deborah Hussey, Mr. Flemmi’s step-daughter, both Flemmi and Mr. Weeks have testified to Bulger’s involvement.

Lending credibility to his story, Weeks was able to bring investigators to a location where several murder victims were buried.

On Friday, jurors saw evidence of the many aliases Bulger prepared to hide under. When the FBI searched his apartment after his 2011 arrest, they found Bulger and a longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig, living under the names Charles and Carol Gasko.

Investigators also found documents under a variety of other potential aliases Bulger was prepared to use.

Under the name James Lawlor, for instance, they found a New York City birth certificate, Nevada casino cards, and a certificate of military service.

Bulger’s defense attorneys gave Judge Denise Casper a list of witnesses they expect to call on Monday and Tuesday next week, but left it unclear whether their case would extend much beyond that.

Also in doubt is whether Bulger himself will end up testifying.

The Boston Globe reported before the trial that Bulger was eager to take the stand, partly in an effort to clear his name from charges that he strangled two women out of fear that they might give compromising information to law enforcement.

But some legal experts say it would be wiser for him to stay off the witness stand.

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