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'Rat-A-Tat Whitey!' Bulger Trial's Most Memorable Moments

James "Whitey" Bulger, in an image released by the U.S. Marshal's Service in August 2011.
EPA /Landov
James "Whitey" Bulger, in an image released by the U.S. Marshal's Service in August 2011.

Now that the trial's over and Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger has been convicted of 11 murders and multiple counts of extortion and money laundering, it's a good time to look back at a few memorable moments, surprises and conclusions.

We'll start with the end, courtesy of the Boston Globe:

"On his way out of the courtroom Monday, Bulger smiled and gave the thumbs-up sign to his brother, John, and two nieces — the children of his brother William, the former president of the Massachusetts Senate and the University of Massachusetts. The gesture outraged Cheryl Connors, whose father, Edward, was gunned down by Bulger inside a Dorchester telephone booth in 1975.

" 'Rat-a-tat Whitey!' Connors yelled from the gallery. Later, she said she was referring to a taped conversation played at the trial, in which Bulger mimicked the sound of machine gun fire as he mentioned her father's slaying to his nephew and niece when they visited him at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility."

Along the way, there was this unexpected development, via our colleagues at WBUR:

"One surprise of this trial has been the relationship between the victims' families and the lawyers for Bulger himself.

"They say they are grateful to defense attorneys J.W. Carney and Hank Brennan for bringing out information the prosecution would have preferred to leave out of the trial, and for the respect they've received from the defense that they say has lacked from some parts of the government.

" 'You know, in order to find out information, my family will do whatever we could,' Tommy Donahue said outside the courthouse this afternoon. 'And we went to Carney and Brennan and they did bring out the information we needed. And plus, Carney and Brennan, they were nothing but gentlemen. They were nothing but good to us. They were class acts.'

"Donahue's father, Michael Donahue, was an innocent victim, gunned down in May 1982 after offering to give a ride home to an acquaintance, Brian Halloran, whom Bulger was targeting for murder after his FBI handler tipped him that Halloran was informing against him."

There was plenty of dramatic testimony. Jurors heard from Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, one of Bulger's right-hand men, who as WGBH says gave "a stomach-churning account of Flemmi's sexual relationship with his stepdaughter, Deborah Hussey, whom he also helped murder.

There was also the testimony that never happened — from a would-be witness who was found dead during the trial. Stephen "Stippo" Rakes, who claimed that Bulger forced him — at gunpoint — to sell a liquor store in 1984, was found a day after he learned he would not be on the witness list. Authorities think he was poisoned by a con man who owed Rakes money.

Returning to the end, our friends at WBUR sum things up nicely this way:

"The mobster who once reigned over Boston's underworld is now looking at life in prison. ... After the verdict was read and the courtroom emptied, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz basked in the government's victory. 'Today is a day that many in this city thought would never come,' Ortiz said during a press conference outside the courthouse.

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

Bulger could be still tried in Oklahoma and Florida, which have the death penalty, on other murder charges. Prosecutors in those states aren't sure yet whether they'll try him, though. Given that he's 83-years-old and will almost surely spend the rest of his life in a Massachusetts prison, they may decide not to move ahead.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.
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