BOSTON – With a cultivated air of indifference, convicted mobster James “Whitey” Bulger sat in a Boston courtroom Wednesday listening to his victims take the stand and condemn his involvement in a string of murders during a reign of terror in this Massachusetts city decades ago.
Bulger, now 84, was convicted in August for crimes including gruesome stranglings during the 1970s and '80s. Wednesday was the first day of a two-day sentencing hearing for the crime lord, who portrayed himself as a good guy and a Robin Hood-like figure during 16 years in the wind.
Sean McGonagle, whose father and uncle were among those killed by Bulger compared the criminal to Satan. McGonagle said Bulger threatened to use him for target practice.
“You’re a domestic terrorist fueled by greed,” said McGonagle, the first of the relatives, widows and orphans to take the stand against Bulger.
Bulger sat at the defendant’s table, drawing something on a pad, not looking up at all. It was unknown whether he will testify on his own behalf.
In a sentencing memo submitted to the court earlier this month, the prosecution called Bulger a man of “no redeeming qualities” who deserves to be given two consecutive life prison terms, plus five years.
“There are no mitigating factors, and defendant Bulger has no redeeming qualities which would justify any sentence below the one called for by the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the applicable case law and statutes,” prosecutors wrote in the memorandum filed in federal court in Boston.
“Bulger is one of the most violent and despicable criminals in Boston history,” prosecutors wrote. “Having now been convicted of 31 felonies … Bulger richly deserves to spend the rest of his life in jail,” they said.
Bulger has called his trial a sham and told his lawyers he didn’t want them to respond to the prosecution memorandum. U.S. District Judge Denise J. Casper, who presided over the trial and sentencing, said Bulger could testify if he wanted.
The judge also is expected to rule at some point on whether relatives of eight victims will be allowed to speak, even though Bulger was not convicted in those murders. Jurors found that prosecutors proved Bulger participated in 11 of 19 murders he was accused of, including the strangulation of Deborah Hussey.
Bulger was the former head of the Winter Hill Gang, whose predatory violence belied its placid name as an Irish American criminal enterprise in Boston. Their crimes included fixing horse races and even a gang war with another Irish American outfit over crime spoils.
During the trial, prosecutors portrayed Bulger as a ruthless crime boss who planned or ordered some of the killings and even committed some himself.
After 16 years on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, Bulger was arrested on June 22, 2011, outside an apartment in Santa Monica along with his long-time girlfriend, Catherine Greig. She pleaded guilty in 2012 to federal charges of conspiracy to harbor a fugitive, identity fraud, and conspiracy to commit identity fraud.
She is serving an eight-year prison sentence.
Semuels reported from Boston and Muskal from Los Angeles