It is now the defense’s turn.
All eyes are on James Bulger, alias The White Man, nickname Whitey.
Will Whitey Bulger testify ? you tell us. Yes or No ?
^ the many years of James “Whitey” Bulger
—- —- —-
Watching the long parade of thugs, pugs, and lugs walking up to and planting themselves in the witness chair at Federal Court these past three weeks has put this writer into the paranormal. i lived and did political work in the city these fellows dented. Though my center of gravity lay several fenders to the southwest — in Roslindale, west Roxbury, and Hyde park — I had begun my roadwork in Dorchester — Upham’s Corner to be exact — and spent many hours, days, and weeks working Dorchester campaigns and activities. The South Boston these fellows destructo’d lay only a mile or two to the north, and at many many Dorchester events the vinegar of South Boston was often tasted. And occasionally I ventured into Southie itself.
^ Southie : corner of Broadway and Dorchester Street
We knew what that meant. We were not fools or naive. It was always there, the under-rumble of hard nose. Later, as William Bulger began his political rise, we could feel the Bulger shoulder, hear its footstep, see its shock wave. There were stories, too, about both brothers — each different yet both of one brick. Of those stories I am not sure that i should write even now, decades after; suffice it to say that one very powerful politician from “Southie” had his life crunched pretty good by the Bulgers, according to what we heard.
It started way back, in 1972, when a certain associate of Whitey Bulger’s brother Billy, one Joe Toomey, was a Democratic state Committeeman from the then still intact South Boston Senate District. Joseph Moakley, who was then the senator, had already announced that he was challenging Louise Day Hicks for the “South Boston Congress” seat — he went on to win it that Fall. Anyway, in the 1972 Presidential Primary — which is when State Committee people are elected — in march, an associate of my political sponsor — who has long since passed — decided to run against Toomey. He lived in “Southie,” of course, and had become best pals with my sponsor: they had served in the Legislature together.
As it turned out, my sponsor’s friend lost to Toomey by only a handful of votes. Never will I forget the faces we saw when we went to Toomey’s headquarters that night to congratulate hi,m. the faces were hard as longshore piers, the bodies stocky as cinder block walls. The air was so angry you could almost see it froth at the mouth. Hate was here, and we knew it, and very quickly left.
If only we had known the whole story ? HaHa, only I did not. My sponsor’s associate knew it well; but his ordeal was just beginning. Two years later, during the crisis and riots brought on by Federal Judge Arthur Garrity’s order that Boston schools be integrated — including the schools of “Southie” — my sponsor’s friend did hos best to calm the situation, to bring people together, to have conversations, not confrontation. The Bulgers were having none of it. Billy, now a State Senator, made the Globe and Herald his enemies; accused them of bias against “Southie”; opposed all efforts at compromise.
As for Whitey ? Nothing can be proved, but we all heard the stories : of how my sponsor’s Southie friend had been run off the road, how he had been forced to flee his South Boston home — he and his wife and kids — and live for a time in Quincy or somewhere. We heard these stories, and we believed them.
Later on both my friend’s friend and Whitey Bulger — and now Bill Bulger too — became much more powerful; more caustic still the brothers’ hate for the man i am thinking of. How palpable was this ? I will never forget one of Bill Bulger’s Saint Patrick’s Morning breakfasts, political as politics can politic — he started the affair, now a Southie must-be-at, for pols and soon-to-be pols, hosted by whoever is South Boston’s State Senator . So there I was, standing in the crowd of “repS’ and City Councillors, campaigners and election junkies, and they and I were watching Bill Bulger do his do on the front stage. Behind him stood a row of the respectful. Prominent among them stood my sponsor’s buddy. Bluntly Bulger ignored his presence on the podium. Passed him by, did Bulger; and he sort of grinned it off, as if to say, “what do you hot-shots out there expect ? This is how it is over here.”
Bill Bulger puts on a time, he run s the time. And so he proceeded to recognize everyone else on the podium by name. But not the man we were all looking at.
^ State senator Bill Bulger : being paid respect to. at Breakfast.
It was said, when both Whitey the man snubbed by Billy were at the peak of their power, that Whitey warned him, after a particularly nasty exchange — with my sponsor’s friend now in a position to make daily life very difficult for Whitey and even more difficult for Whitey’s guys — that Whitey said to him, “I can’t kill you, but i can kill your friends.” And my sponsor’s friend’s close associates knew that Whitey meant it. It must have been hard for them. They enjoyed the strong protection of closeness to my sponsor’s friend, and still they had no protection at all — almost: for, after all, Whitey did not, despite the threat, kill any of them. But the man whose protection they should have enjoyed did just what Whitey had implied he should do. He went his way, paying no attention to Whitey, and not much to Billy, as he did his thing in Boston and for Boston — all of it, with honor and openness to all. As for Whitey — and for his Senate President brother Billy — they just kept on — amassing power : Billy collected political clout the ways some people collect stamps. As Senate President he controlled the State Budget, and he used that control to control, in part, the administration of the state’s courts. It was said that when Judge Ed Daher, then of the Boston Housing Court, objected to some job moves by Bill Bulger, he found the budget for his Court slashed. Was this so ? We sure thought it was.
^ crossing State senate President Bill Bulger was no joke. And he knew who you were, believe me.
With Whitey, we know what the 1980s brought him. we know it now, that is. The murders and betrayals, extortions and beatings, the guns in mouths, the informing and being informed on. We learned the names and traits of John Martorano — feared relentless killer’; Kevin weeks, tough and snarly; Steve Flemmi — kill or watch a killing; the Winter Hill Gang — not in Southie but in the “‘Ville,” oddly enough; and John Connolly — the FBI man among men (ya right) and his colleagues at what should have been called the Muff-BI. We hear the names of the killed, the extorted, the beaten, the deceived, the betrayed — and the innocent who happened to be in the line of — ping ! — a bullet or three.
We see the families of the killed, their brains stuck on vengeance — and who can blame them ? They lived, feared, ,loathed, and bled it.
Once I left the Dorchester offices where my roadwork started, I avoided South Boston entirely. I had friends there, yes, and cherished them. They know who they are.
Some owned taverns that were riotous good fun to have a “frosty” in. Some worked the Lithuanian Club — always a good time on a night. Some ran funeral homes; others played Park League hockey, or baseball for the South Boston Chippewas. So,me worked at the South Boston District Court House on Broadway — a fun place to be on South Boston Parade day in March. Some were gorgeous, spunky gals one met at “happy hours” on Cape Cod — Clawson’s on a Sunday night was a favorite lawn to hit on — or at “Dot So Cha” reunions — big social mixers — featuring folks from Southie, Dorchester, and Charlestown: the Irish heartland of Boston, often held at the Victory Road Armory in Fields Corner.
^ gals of Southie : jst as gorgeous spunky as in the 1970os-1980s
And some went on to political fortune : Ray Flynn, Jack Hart, Brian Wallace, Mike Flaherty, Steve Lynch — he by beating Bill Bulger’s son, no less, to win the State Rep seat left open when Jack Hart succeeded Bill Bulger as State Senator.
^ Kevin O’Neil of Triple O’s — today, after the groove has gone.
I never did meet Kevin Weeks, though I did know — unforgettably — his brother Jack. Nor did I ever meet Kevin O’Neil,. or Pat Nee, or Billy Shea, or any of the other biggies of Whitey’s close circle. But watching them now, greying and aging, as they testify to what they did, saw, heard, and planned back when, I know that I easily could have known all of the, stood at a bar with them drinking “a frosty” or two, worked campaigns with them — and felt a touch of fear at what they might well have been like in a less celebratory or energetic corner of life. Almost all of us who lived in Boston then knew these guys or guys much like them. We knew the city that they helped scratch, the way a vandal would key a brand new Mercedes, only meaner — and dirtier — yet also, as is a vandal, occasionally fun to be around. In a cynical groove in a then inward-angled city that fortunately no longer exists, for me or for them. Or for the rest of us.
It is over now.
— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere
PART THREE : THE TRIAL AND TRIAL PREPARATION — IMPEDIMENTS
^ Carmen Ortiz, United States Attorney for Massachusetts, already under fire for over-charging Aaron Swartz
Part III in this Here and Sphere series was going to focus on Punishment. But given the obsessive passions afoot with regard to the Zimmerman Case, its presentation, preparation, and verdict, we have changed the plan. Trial preparation and presentation require a strong look from us.
Thanks to TV shows like “Law and Order” especially, most Americans know a lot about what happens in a criminal case long before it goes to trial. “Law and Order” is particularly valuable because its drama includes plenty of mistakes made, bad decisions, incompetent or overreaching lawyers, disagreements about evidence, and such like. On the defense side there is always the problem of what to emphasize and how. Prosecutors face election and find themselves forced to go the route on cases in which their voting public has great interest. The media pounce on criminal cases of great interest; they cannot avoid it, nor should they. This too has consequences for justice, most of them unhappy. “Law and Order” retreats from none of it. The picture this show puts in frame is often stereotyped — but never false.
“Law and Order” succeeds because crime unthinkably violent or unjust arouses great passions. Whence arises the rush to accuse, which almost always brings more injustice.
The rush to accuse and judge has ruined many a life : one thinks of the Duke LaCrosse team fiasco, the Atlanta security guard falsely accused of bombing a fair, the national security scientist wrongly accused of sending anthrax letters, the Tawanna Brawley accusation that a NY County prosecutor had raped her. One could add many, many more such incidents.
False accusation is no minor break in the social fabric. “Thou shalt not bear false witness” is one of Moses’ 10 commandments, the ground rules of Jewish tribal law. No social mistake outranks false accusation as an act of barbarity. Still, false accusation arises from people’s knowledge that grievous crimes do occur; and who can tell, at the outset, whether an accusation is false or true ? That is why we have police detectives and investigators and why we pay them good money. To separate the false accusation from the likely true one.
Public outcry has engendered more incompetent or unwarranted prosecutions than we can count. In the 1980s it was day care centers abusing children : every case brought was eventually reversed or compromised — in Massachusetts, the Amirault Family of Fells acres — after ruining the lives of the accused. In the 1930s – and before that — it was people of color in the South accused of rape. In the 1920s it was Sacco and Vanzetti — right here in Dedham, Massachusetts.
^ Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco, prosecuted almost certainly wrongfully and executed after seven (7) years of world wide protests.
In 1692 in my home city of Salem, also in Massachusetts, it was men and women accused of witchcraft. In the South, from the late 1880s until the Second World war, many black men didn’t even get an unfair trial but were simply lynched…
^ injustice at its most passionate…
To return to the present, New York City’s Brooklyn prosecutor is now investigating 50 convictions based on what looks like perjured testimony, doctored confessions, and prosecutorial misconduct.
^ David Ranta, freed in NY after serving 22 years for a rape he almost certainly did not commit
A victim is required. No matter who or how. Prosecutors and police staffs work with that as a backdrop. It is not pretty and it is wrong.
Jurors, too, feel the heat. Juries in high-passion criminal cases are sequestered and their names impounded. We do this so that passion people cannot threaten or otherwise intimidate jurors, at trial and after verdict. It is a wonder that, given this pressure, people are willing to serve as jurors at all.
In the time of Henry VIII, jurors gave a verdict unfavorable to the King at their peril. We, today, are the King.
The moral of the story is plain: the public should — must — reserve judgment; prosecutors and police must seek justice, not convictions; and juries must never be afraid to decide a case as THEY see it, not as WE see it.
In the Zimmerman matter, which we have discussed in separate editorials, very little went as it should. Injustice, incompetence — you name it. Now we turn to Massachusetts and our own three murder prosecutions. Hopefully, we will do much better than tyhe Zimmerman prosecutors and police staffs.
The three cases now under way –James “Whitey” Bulger, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and Aaron Hernandez — fascinate us. Murder most foul can never be grasped. It is always open and shut ; was it done, or not ? By this person, or someone else ? Murder is simple — and a mystery beyond resolution.But never beyond opinion.
Most of us have already formed an opinion as to the accuseds’ guilt and of appropriate punishment. Because this is Massachusetts, we ought be fairly sure that the prosecutions will be competent and NOT tainted by misconduct, although our history in this regard is not auspicious. We are proof that being politically progressive is no guarantee of being just about justice.
< J. W. Carney, lead defense attorney for James “Whitey”Bulger
The big danger, though, is that all three men’s juries will feel pressured to reach a certain verdict rather than another. To that end, we commend the Bulger prosecution for its methodical presentation and its readiness to provide to the defense such evidence as our law requires it to disclose. We shall see if the Tsarnaev prosecution meets this standard.
< Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter, who will prosecute the Aaron Hernandez case.
— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere
NEXT : PART FOUR — MEDIA ISSUES
PART ONE : HAVING YOUR CAKE AND EATING IT, TOO
No fewer than four murder trials now have the American public – indeed, much of the world, fascinated and attentive,. Of those four trials, three are underway or in preparation in Massachusetts alone. (The fourth one, that of George Zimmerman, is a Florida event.) That Massachusetts be the focus of murder crime may surprise many. Our state’s reputation is that of a progressive, educated citizenry who follow highly moral missions and do their duty to everyone. And our reputation is not a mis-impression. We are all that. Educated, highly moral, committed to the well being of all of our neighbors.
Still, in a society as populous and diverse as Massachusetts, there are many, many agendas going on. Not everyone in Massachusetts works the community’s mission. Our three accused murderers, James “Whitey” Bulger, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and Aaron Hernandez had their own agendas even as they lived among the rest of us.
Nothing in itself is wrong with that. No society would be worth belonging if it were not open to opt-outs. No society gets it entirely right. Still, it takes an act of will for someone to separate frrom the general opinion. Many acts of will are beneficial : inventors, entrepreneurs, political opponents all go against the societal grain to society’s ultimate betterment.
But some dissents are criminal. By “criminal,” I mean acts that society cannot tolerate, that not only dissent from the society’s mission but portend immediate, actual harm to it and to those who live in it. This, of course, is a commonplace. What is not so commonplace is our fascination with criminal dissent. Why does the criminal do it ? Does he realize that he is acting criminally ? Does it just happen somehow ? Does he like his criminal self ?
These questions motivate our fascination with the crime events now on trial in Massachusetts or soon to be.
We marvel at their diversity as well as their intensity. There is the old line, noir-movie, city gangster, Whitey Bulger. There’s the terrorist, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, religious and ioung. And there is the sports star gang-banger, Aaron Hernandez. None has the slightest similarity to any of the others; not motive, not background, not the manner of act. They are linked only by being accused of committing murder — in Massachusetts.
Each probably despises the others. Criminal will is often like that. It defends its own will in the same breath that it condemns other wills. The criminal HAS IT BOTH WAYS. He (or she) breaks the social covenant, but also passionately defends it against others who break it. The criminal gets to be a good citizen and a bad one, both.
This fascinates us, and it should. The cliche “having your cake and eating it too” is a commonplace because we all want to do it – but few of us ever do. The criminal gets to actually do it. How can he NOT fascinate us ?
We wonder how the criminal gets to be so free from taboos even while maintaining a dedicationl to them. At the trial we see some of how he (or she) did what he did, and of why, but even at trial the question of how did it get to that is rarely answered even partially. Still, that is the question we want – need – to have answered. Because it is rarely answered in a trial, we follow the trial intently seeking in what is testified to an answer to that question.
We fear, and rightly, that the criminal acts as he does because he likes being criminal. He can condemn the criminal acts of others as vigorously as we do and commit other such acts as we do not. He likes having it both ways ? Maybe not. But what if he does ?
Why did Whitey Bulger choose a life of extortion, gambling, violence, ratting, and killing ? Perhaps because he liked it. Perhaps Tsarnaev liked being his older brother’s loyal helpmate. Maybe Aaron Hernandez liked the power and swagger, the anger and dominance, that violence to his associates engendered. There is nothing freer than to be free of societal taboos. When one sees that one can do anything, it is hard to walk away. Hard for some, anyway. Fortunately, it is not hard for most of us to eschew doing whatever we want. In any case, we can watch the trials of Hernandez, Tsarnaev, and Bulger and imagine ourselves having it both ways : doing what they did and not doing it. Living it and condemning it.
No wonder that criminal trials fascinate us.
“SOME THOUGHTS ON CRIME” IS A CONTINUING ESSAY, POSTED ONE PART AT A TIME. PART TWO– DID HE REALLY DO THAT ?” — WILL BE POSTED TOMORROW.
— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere