BOSTON--James “Whitey” Bulger will spend the rest of his life in prison, a federal judge ordered Thursday, telling the mobster that "the scope, the callousness, the depravity of your crimes are almost unfathomable."
The sentencing capped a trial that detailed a decades-long reign of terror by the Boston crime boss. The trial came years after the crimes; Bulger, now 84, had been a fugitive for 16 years until his 2011 arrest in Santa Monica.
Bulger, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, wearing glasses that obscured his bushy eyebrows, stared at the judge with a small frown on his face. It was a change from the previous day, when families of victims spoke to him, pleading him to look at them, but he only looked down. Judge Denise J. Casper sentenced Bulger to life in prison, plus five years, plus another life sentence, and ordered him to pay $19.5 million in restitution.
[Updated 10:37 a.m. PST Nov. 14: Bulger plans to appeal his conviction, his lawyers said outside the courtroom following the sentencing. “There are a number of important issues that he still thinks need to be told. There’s evidence and witnesses that he thinks should be made public,” said attorney Hank Brennan. Brennan said he believed that both the victims’ families and the city of Boston were left with “a feeling of discontent” after the trial, because so many people culpable for crimes had not been held responsible.]
Casper did not mince words when addressing Bulger before sentencing him. She had presided over two months of trial that included testimony about Bulger and his associates strangling women to death, pulling out people's teeth, handcuffing them to chairs and then shooting them in the head, burying bodies in basements and then digging them up, gunning down men who were in no way connected to his criminal enterprises.
“The testimony of human suffering that you and your associates inflicted on others was at times agonizing to hear and painful to watch,” Casper told Bulger. “At times during the trial I wished that what we were watching a movie, that what we were hearing was not real, but as the families of the victims here know too well, it was not a movie.”
The previous day, a dozen family members of victims had read moving impact statements catalogging the toll of Bulger’s actions on their lives.
Trial testimony had also included details of Bulger’s racketeering and extortion enterprises, and his actions that brought drugs to his neighborhood of South Boston.
“Your crimes, in my estimation, are made all the more heinous because they were all about money,” Casper said.
During the two-day sentencing hearing, Bulger only spoke two words, “Yes” and “No.”
“Yes,” when asked Thursday, whether he understood his right to appeal, and “No,” when asked Wednesday whether he was going to speak. Though some legal experts had anticipated that Bulger would speak during the sentencing hearing, he chose not to, telling his lawyers that he considered the trial a sham, and did not want to participate.
Casper addressed this in court on Thursday, saying, “You can call it what you want, but in my humble estimation, you received the fair trial that every defendant in this country is entitled to.”
Many in Boston have been torn over the trial and how Bulger received a special motorcade to the courthouse; they say it played to his ego. Some observers wished he had been tried only on gun charges, which would have taken just a couple of days. Bulger’s lawyer J.W. Carney said Wednesday that his client had offered to plead guilty to all charges in exchange for leniency for his girlfriend, Catherine Greig.
The trial, for some, was one more burden on a city still coping with the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings.
But in her statement, Casper referred to these complaints, eloquently quashing Bulger’s ego and dispensing — forever, she hopes, his role in Boston history.
“This year, 2013, with all that’s happened in this city, the city of Boston, both tragic and triumphant, you and the horrible things that were recounted by your cohorts during the course of this trial do not and should not represent this city," she said. "If anything represents this city, from this trial, it’s that after an orderly proceeding in which both parties were very well represented by counsel, a jury did the hard work that jurors do and rendered a fair and just verdict that reflected careful review of the evidence and application of the law.”
Many of the family members who spoke Wednesday said they hoped to finally put this decades-long ordeal behind them.
“There’s never really closure, but at least you can put it behind you. I do feel good today,” said Patricia Donahue outside court on Wednesday. Donahue’s husband Michael was gunned down giving a neighbor a ride home in 1982.
Others are still clamoring for more clarity about the depth of the corruption that helped Bulger run amok in Boston. He was an FBI informant, and often got tipped off about other informants, who he then killed.
“It won’t end for me until the FBI and Justice Department come clean,” said David Wheeler, whose father, Roger Wheeler, a businessman, was gunned down in Tulsa in 1981. “Until we have a chance to face them in court, until the public knows the extent of their involvement in this corruption.”
Casper referred briefly to the FBI in her statement.
“Others are not blameless in the wrong that has been done here. There’s culpability all around,” she said. “But you sir, are the only defendant before me.”
Bulger did not show emotion when Casper asked him to stand as she read his sentence; he opened and closed his mouth a few times, but otherwise did not move. After the hearing, his lawyer patted him on the back, and Bulger walked, in his orange jumpsuit, out of court.