This courtroom sketch depicts Stephen Flemmi testifying as defendant James Bulger listens, below, during his murder and racketeering trial at U.S. District Court in Boston, Thursday, July 18, 2013.

Credit: (AP Photo/Margaret Small)

The Bulger Trial: Was Flemmi Worth It?

July 26, 2013

WGBH's Adam Reilly is reporting from the trial of James "Whitey" Bulger. His notes from the courtroom follow: 

A few quick thoughts on Thursday's iteration of the James "Whitey" Bulger trial, which saw longtime Bulger collaborator Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi's testimony finally wrap up after six days:

1. Flemmi might not have been worth it. Given his long history with Bulger and his intimate knowledge of Bulger's misdeeds—acknowledged and alleged—Flemmi seemed like a huge asset before his testimony began. But I'm not sure how much he helped and how much he hurt. Flemmi's memory grew weaker as his testimony progressed. Today, he had a hard time remembering whether or not he had a conversation with Pat Nee after the murders of Brian Halloran and Michael Donahue. Last week, Flemmi struggled to remember how affectionate he'd been with his stepdaughter Deborah Hussey when she was a toddler—before he had sexual relations with her and helped facilitate her murder. If Flemmi's memory is shot, everything he tells the jury about what Bulger did and how he did it needs to be taken with a gargantuan grain of salt. 

What's more, Flemmi may be the most deeply unsavory character of all the ex-gangsters the government has partnered with in its attempt to nail Bulger. He didn't just have a sexual relationship with and help murder his stepdaughter; he also helped murder his ex-girlfriend, Deborah Davis. He says Bulger did the actually killing in both cases; Bulger says he didn't. 

But it doesn't really matter, does it? Throw in the fact that Flemmi admits he'd like to get out of his current life sentence in exchange for his testimony in this case, and it's possible the composite picture created by his testimony is so stomach-churning the jurors will penalize the government for striking an alliance with him. Then again, maybe they won't.

2. Hank Brennan's a good lawyer. Brennan's withering cross-examination of Flemmi has drawn rave reviews—but today's cross of Richard Buccheri was just as impressive. Testifying for the prosecution, Buccheri offered a harrowing account of a shakedown at which Bulger stuck a shotgun in his mouth, put a .45 to his head, and demanded $200,000.

Buccheri's tale was incredibly vivid and compelling, and when Brennan began his cross, it was easy to imagine any challenge to Buccheri backfiring. But it didn't. Instead, Brennan, slowly revealed the depth of Buccheri's connection with the criminal Brothers Martorano—one of whom, John, has copped to 20 killings and is now cooperating with the government in this trial. Questioned by Brennan, Buccheri admitted receiving multiple phone calls from John Martorano after Martorano fled to Florida to live as a fugitive. And he refused to acknowledge that he Martorano was a career criminal—saying, instead, "I don't know what anybody does in their life!" By the time Brennan's cross was finished, a witness who'd been intensely sympathetic had become a bit less so.

3. Kevin O'Neil doesn't like to talk. We also heard today from O'Neil, the former owner of Triple O's, the South Boston bar that served as a de facto headquarters for Bulger and his gang. O'Neil was a sight to behold—huge and mashy-faced, with a gravelly voice and a profound aversion to speech. Looking more uncomfortable on the stand than any witness we've seen yet, O'Neil offered single-word answer after single-word answer—then shambled off after a few painful minutes. After six days of the voluble and combative Flemmi, it was quite a come-down.


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