The big event in the James "Whitey" Bulger trial this week will be the testimony of Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, Bulger's former Winter Hill Gang partner and the first witness to testify from prison.
Everything that precedes Flemmi's time on the stand will be a de facto warm up, as were Monday morning's proceedings.
The first government witness called today was Richard Evans, the former chief medical examiner of Massachusetts. Moving at an impressively brisk pace, Evans recapped the documents filed in connection with the deaths of the 19 people allegedly killed by Bulger and offered his expert assessment on why they died.
The testimony was highly technical, but at times quite gory. We heard minute descriptions of the paths traveled by bullets as they entered victims' bodies, and there were several references to ammunition entering the brain and disrupting the brain's "breathing center."
And, yet, t's not entirely clear how much Evans gave the prosecution, because the defense hasn't focused much at all on contesting the cause of death for Bulger's alleged victims. In fact, Evans' testimony may have helped Bulger accomplish his limited goals.
We've known since opening arguments that Bulger's defense team is focused on contesting just a few of the murders he's accused of committing, including the John Callahan and Roger Wheeler killings (both of which took place in death-penalty states) and the slayings of Debra Davis and Deborah Hussey. Apparently, Bulger believes his legacy will be improved if he can show he didn't kill women. And today, Evans had to admit that for both Hussey and Davis, the cause of death was hard to establish, because they were exhumed years after they died. Expect the defense team--which didn't cross-examine Evans--to remind the jury of this when closing arguments come around.
The second witness to take the stand this morning was Patricia Carlson, the former wife of John Martorano, the admitted mass murderer who was a criminal associate of Bulger's and is now a key witness for the government.
Carlson started dating Martorano, who's 20 years her senior, at the age of 15. At 18, Carlson said, Martorano asked her to go on a vacation to Florida, and it turned into a 20-year stay. Carlson is the mother of Bulger's godson, James Steven, and her voice broke as she looked at a picture of Bulger holding him at his baptism.
Carlson's overall tone was defiant. As she described two trips to Massachusetts to pick up a total of $20,000 in cash- once from her mother's place in Somerville, once from Flemmi at Logan airport- Carlson said testily that she wasn't trying to help Martorano.
"I was thinking more that it would help me pay my bills," she told defense attorney Hank Brennan, though she later acknowledged that paying bills was never a problem at all.
But here, too, the question of what Carlson gave the government is up for debate, because as is the case with so many criminals and criminal associates-turned-state's witness, she's got a ton of baggage.
She admitted lying to a grand jury in the 1990's following Martorano's arrest, following a detailed plan the two of them formulated together. Under cross-examination, she agreed that after she was accused of lying to the grand jury, the government never pressed her for additional information about the scope of Martorano's criminality. They left her alone until this year, when they approached her about testifying in this case. It's yet another iteration of a key defense argument: in its zeal to nail Bulger, the government is giving a pass to a host of other nasty characters--and relying on several of them to make its case.