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NPR News

'Whitey' Bulger Found Guilty of Murder, Racketeering


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Renee Montagne. James "Whitey" Bulger - the mobster who once reigned over Boston's underworld - was found guilty yesterday on 31 of 32 counts in a federal racketeering indictment. The laundry list of allegations against him included murder, extortion and illegal gun possession. The verdict came after a 20-year quest to bring the gangster to justice. From member station WBUR in Boston, Asma Khalid reports.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: After the verdict was read and the courtroom emptied, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz basked in the government's victory.

CARMEN ORTIZ: Today is a day that many in this city thought would never come.

KHALID: And, she's right. Many Bostonians never thought Bulger would face a day in court for his crimes. He went on the run in 1994. He evaded capture for years, until 2011 when he was caught in his Santa Monica, California, apartment living under a fake name. He was brought back to face trial.

This was never a murder case, but the government tried to prove that Bulger killed 19 people. The names of the alleged victims were individually listed in the indictment as racketeering acts under one of the charges. Despite all the effort from the prosecution, the jury only found Bulger responsible for 11 of those 19 murders.

Pat Donahue's husband Michael Donahue was one of those 11. He was killed just a few hundred yards from the courthouse where this verdict came down. Donahue has religiously attended this trial, and she was relieved to hear Bulger was responsible for her husband's murder.

PAT DONAHUE: I think there was justice today, for me, maybe not for some other victims.

KHALID: One of those other victims she's referring to is William O'Brien. He was murdered in March 1973. The jury said there was not enough evidence to find that Bulger was responsible for O'Brien's murder. After the verdict, his son, Billy O'Brien sounded frustrated.

BILLY O'BRIEN: My father just got murdered 40 years later, again today, in this courtroom. That prosecution dropped the ball. That jury should be ashamed of themselves.

KHALID: The prosecution built its case against Bulger through the testimony of some slimy characters, men who'd confessed to murder, but struck deals with the government. They agreed to testify against Bulger in exchange for a more lenient punishment. The government has faced criticism for making those deals. But, after the verdict, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz defended that decision.

ORTIZ: Unfortunately, when you're prosecuting individuals like Mr. Bulger, he's not hanging around with the utmost and upstanding citizens of the community. He's hanging around with people that are just like him, and so we need to do what we have to do, unfortunately, to get to the bottom of it.

KHALID: Ortiz insisted the government did the best it could. Defense attorney J.W. Carney said one of Bulger's goals for this trial was for the public to realize the depth of government corruption.

J.W. CARNEY: I think at the end of a person's life, when people think he is the only bad person in the courtroom, it's important to show that's not true, and that he was allowed to be the leader of the organized crime in Boston for 25 years because law enforcement was corrupt.

KHALID: According to Carney, this trial put the government's faults front and center. And, that was a victory for the defense. During Bulger's heyday, multiple FBI agents accepted gifts from the mobster. In return, Bulger claimed he was given a green light. But that immunity defense was banned in the courtroom. Bulger's lawyers have already said they plan to appeal because he was not allowed to use that defense strategy.

The government maintains that nobody is given a license to kill. For now, Bulger is locked up in Plymouth, Massachusetts. He is likely to stay in prison for the rest of his life. For NPR News, I'm Asma Khalid in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.