BOSTON — An ex-convict and confessed murdered will be back on the witness stand Tuesday in the trial of James “Whitey” Bulger, accused of running Boston’s “Winter Hill Gang” for decades and threatening to kill small-time criminals unless they paid protection money.
John Martorano, who previously described Bulger as a partner in crime, is the first of the accused mobster’s top associates to take the stand in what is expected to be a three- to four-month trial in U.S. District Court in Boston.
Bulger has pleaded not guilty to all charges, including 19 murders that prosecutors say he committed or ordered in the 1970s and ’80s. His rise from small-time crook in a gritty Boston neighborhood to one of the most feared criminals in the city’s history — who then disappeared and spent 16 years in hiding before his arrest in 2011 — has captivated the city for years.
Martorano, who served 12 years in prison after confessing to 20 murders, on Monday told the jury he had been close friends with Bulger and other members of the gang, even naming his youngest son after Bulger and another associate.
“They were my partners in crime, they were my best friends, they were my children’s godfathers,” the 72-year-old witness said. He also testified to committing murders with Bulger in which Martorano was the gunman and Bulger drove a support vehicle as they eliminated rivals during Bulger’s rise to power.
Bulger’s story, which inspired the 2006 Academy Award-winning movie “The Departed,” stands as a black mark on the history of Boston law enforcement. Prosecutors contend Bulger cooperated with a corrupt FBI agent, John Connolly, who took information on rival gangs but turned a blind eye to Bulger’s crimes.
Bulger, 83, denies ever serving as an FBI informant. In opening statements, his attorneys said their client paid Connolly for information but offered none of his own.
Martorano said Bulger and Connolly, who both grew up in Boston’s “Southie” neighborhood, first got in contact after Connolly met with Whitey Bulger’s brother, William, a powerful Massachusetts politician who became the speaker of the state senate.
The outcome of that meeting was a request from William Bulger, Martorano said: “If you can keep my brother out of trouble, that would be helpful to him.”
After his first meeting with Connolly, “Whitey” Bulger told his gang mates that the two would have a productive relationship.
“He said that they guy wanted to help him,” Martorano said, adding that cooperation could help “keep the notoriety off Billy.” (Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Douglas Royalty)