John Martorano testifies.

Bulger Defense Wins Style Points on Martorano Cross

June 18, 2013

After the Bulger trial wrapped today, a few of us who'd been watching the defense's cross-examination of John Martorano were raving about attorney Hank Brennan's performance. Brennan, as you may already know, did a fine job of highlighting the disconnect between Martorano's self-image and reality. Martorano fancies himself a "vigilante" who only killed to protect friends and family. But the truth, as it emerged on the stand today, was far more unpleasant.

The most troubling example, to my mind: the murder of John Barro, in which Martorano stabbed a man after disarming him; dragged him outside into his car; and continued stabbing him there — eventually dumping him in an alley to die. Martorano claimed, absurdly, that he wanted to take Barro to another location, from whence he'd somehow get to a hospital for treatment. He also insisted that he could only recall stabbing Barro four or five times. In fact, the medical report showed Barro had been stabbed about twenty times. And Martorano's stumbling attempts to cast pulling Barro to his car as a counterintuitive act of mercy were utterly self-incriminating.

All that said, it's worth asking how effective, from a legal standpoint, the defense's cross actually was. Remember: based on opening arguments, Bulger's defense team is going to concede a massive amount of the charges against him, from extortion to drug dealing to murders in the double digits. Their goal is limited; they want to show that Bulger didn't kill two women, Debra Davis and Deborah Hussey, and that he didn't kill Roger Wheeler and John Callahan in the macabre World Jai Alai affair.

When it comes to achieving those goals, I'm not sure how much progress Brennan made today. Davis and Hussey weren't mentioned, as I recall. Martorano spoke openly about his eagerness to kill Wheeler on Callahan's behalf, so it's possible the defense made some progress there. But Martorano made a compelling case that, while he fired the gunshot that took his old friend Callahan's life, he did so at the behest of Bulger and Flemmi.

Toward the end of the day's proceedings, the defense pushed Martorano to take at least partial ownership of Callahan's murder by recognizing that, ultimately, he decided to do the deed. But there wasn't much pushback at the notion that Bulger and Flemmi saw it as the right thing to do, and made their wishes abundantly clear to Martorano, their Winter Hill Gang partner. Maybe the topic will come up again tomorrow in a way that makes Bulger look less involved than he currently seems to have been. But for now, Callahan's death looks like a major asterisk in what was, stylistically, a good day for the defense.


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