Whitey Bulger trial: Star witness tells of bungled murders

John Martorano, a close associate of James 'Whitey' Bulger, testified Monday, saying that Bulger was involved in numerous murders, including at least one that went badly wrong.

Marice Cohn Band/AP/File
John Martorano is questioned about his plea agreement in exchange for testifying against former FBI agent John Connolly in the Miami Courthouse in this file photo. Martorano testified Monday in Boston in the James 'Whitey' Bulger trial.

The trial of crime-boss James “Whitey” Bulger took a dive Monday into sordid stories of mob-related murder, mistrust, and deadly mistakes.

John Martorano, a former member of Mr. Bulger’s Boston gang, described Bulger as a co-conspirator behind a string of murders in which Mr. Martorano pulled a trigger. Often Bulger served as a car driver, he said.

The motive was sometimes retribution against rival criminals. But sometimes, Martorano told a federal jury, it was simply the fear that someone who knew too much would end up testifying against them.

And sometimes victims were gunned down in a tragedy of errors, Martorano said, as the accomplices set hit squads in motion against people who, they later found out, were not the intended targets.

“Wrong guy,” Martorano said at one point, describing a man who died in a “broadside” of machine gun fire.

Martorano is one of the key witnesses in the high-profile case, a man who claims firsthand knowledge of Bulger’s actions, saying Bulger was involved in numerous murders. Bulger spent years on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list.

But defense lawyers are preparing to argue that Martorano’s testimony isn’t credible. They say that when Martorano was arrested back in 1995, he saw an opportunity to lighten his own sentence dramatically by agreeing to testify against Bulger and others.

At that time, Bulger had disappeared (fleeing Boston after a federal indictment).

Martorano admitted to 10 murders and other crimes, but served just a dozen years in prison.

On Monday, Martorano described his shock when a judge disclosed in 1997 that Bulger and another former crime partner had served for years as informants to the FBI. It “sort of broke my heart,” Martorano said.

Martorano ended up serving as a key witness against John Connolly, Bulger’s handler at the FBI. Connolly was convicted of turning into an accomplice of Bulger, helping to arrange a murder that Martorano carried out.

Now it’s Bulger’s turn for trial. He is charged under federal racketeering law with various crimes including extortion and 19 murders.

Martorano’s testimony Monday covered several of those murders. Most stunning perhaps, was the hunt in 1973 for Al Notarangeli, a gambling bookmaker who had gotten on the wrong side of the Mafia. Bulger’s group agreed to work with the Italian-American mob on to carry out the job, but ended up killing the wrong people several times, Martorano said.

“Don't make a mistake again,” Martorano recalls telling a colleague whose job was to identify Mr. Notarangeli in a restaurant. Bulger was present for the string of killings that ended, finally, with Notarangeli’s body left in the trunk of a stolen car, Martorano said.

The courtroom testimony also touched on how Bulger’s relationship with FBI Agent Connolly began.

Martorano said that Connolly, who had grown up near the Bulger family, felt indebted to state Sen. William Bulger (Whitey’s brother) after getting a job at the FBI.

The state senator, Martorano said, told Connolly to help keep his brother “out of trouble.” Martorano said he believed the resulting relationship was about providing payoffs to Connolly in return for information that would help the gang avoid indictment or arrest.

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