Whitey Bulger gets life for racketeering, killings

BOSTON – Notorious mob boss James 'Whitey' Bulger was sentenced Thursday to two consecutive life sentences plus five years for his conviction in a string of murders, as well as racketeering, extortion, money laundering, obstruction of justice and narcotics distribution, during a reign of terror in the 1970s and '80s in South Boston.

The judge also ordered $19 million restitution for Bulger's victims.

Bulger stared intently at the judge without emotion throughout the 25-minute sentencing hearing in U.S. district court.

It was a dramatic -- but short -- end to the long-running saga of the 84-year-old mobster who was arrested by the FBI in Santa Monica, Calif., along with his girlfriend, after 16 years on the run.

"Your conduct merits the most severe penalty," U.S. federal judge Denise Casper said in handing down the sentence.

"Your crimes were all the more heinous because they were all about money," the judge said. "Make no mistake, it takes no business acumen to take money from folks on the other end of the gun."

Bulger, who refused to look at the victims during a sentencing hearing on Wednesday, stared at the judge Thursday as she lambasted his brutal life of crime, including killings at close range.

"You have, over time, become the face of this City," she said. "That is regrettable."

Prosecutors had asked Casper for the stiff sentenced that was impose in accordance with sentencing guidelines. Bulger's lawyers had declined to recommend a sentence, saying Bulger believes his trial was a ''sham.''

Bulger was convicted in August for 11 out of the 19 killings he was charged with participating in, but acquitted him of seven killings and issued a ''no finding'' in the murder of 26-year-old Debra Davis, the girlfriend of his former partner, Stephen ''The Rifleman'' Flemmi.

Casper handed down the sentence one day after a wrenching hearing that included statements by 12 family members who lost fathers, husbands and siblings to gang violence decades ago.

Some called Bulger a ''terrorist,'' a ''punk'' and even ''Satan'' as he sat stone-faced and refused to look at them.

The family members "are the ones who have had to live their lives without their fathers, their husbands, their brothers and their sisters," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly. "It's all thanks to this defendant, James Bulger. … To him, human life meant nothing."

Bulger's trial laid bare a life of crime, corruption and unsavory deals between the federal government and the mobster.

Corrupt FBI agents took bribes from Bulger, tipped him off to threats and turned a blind eye to his violent crimes. Under FBI pressure, the Department of Justice removed Bulger -- a key informant on the crime underworld in Boston -- from an indictment in the late 1970s, leaving him free to participate in murders over the next few years.

In addition, former Boston FBI agent John Connolly Jr. — Bulger's handler when he was an informant — tipped the gangster ahead of an indictment, prompting Bulger to flee Boston. Connolly was later sentenced to 10 years in prison.

During his trial, Bulger claimed that a now-deceased federal prosecutor had given him immunity to commit crimes in exchange for Bulger's offer to protect him from the Mafia. The judge rejected that claim as a defense.

Prosecutors addressed the FBI's malfeasance head on, saying it should not have a bearing on Bulger's sentencing.

"The stupidity and dishonesty of FBI agents, like John Connolly and John Morris, don't excuse Bulger's savagery," Kelly told Casper. "They don't give him a basis for any leniency."

Some of the most pointed commentary Wednesday came spontaneously in response to Bulger's emotionless demeanor. Seated in an orange jumpsuit at a desk between his two attorneys, he looked down at a notepad nearly the entire time. He looked up briefly only twice, when speakers insisted he look at them.

"This man has built up so much hate in my heart, I'd like to strangle him myself," said Steven Davis, brother of Debra Davis, who was found strangled in 1981. "The son of a bitch should look at us … "You piece of (expletive), look at me!"

In the 90-minute hearing on Wednesday, speakers recalled painful memories from childhoods that were shattered when Bulger and his gang killed their fathers.

Timothy Connors, son of Bulger murder victim Eddie Connors, addressed Bulger as "Whitey," saying, "You took my father. Maybe you don't understand how important it is for a little boy to have his father." Others illustrated the point in their recollections.

"I can remember playing Little League in Southie, looking in from second base and seeing all those other fathers with their sons," said William O'Brien Jr., son of Bulger extortion victim William O'Brien, whose murder wasn't linked to Bulger. "Me? Just standing there, wishing I had somebody cheering me on, wishing I had somebody adjusting my baseball cap."

Some recounted how the damage affected their families for years. Kathleen Connors Nichols, another child of Eddie Connors, told of the "mentally exhausting" stigma that murder leaves on a family. For kids, it means having to answer the question: How did your father die?

"Do you tell them the shocking truth -- that he was practically cut in half from the overkill of ammo fired into his body?" Nichols said. "Or do you give them the PG version that will stop any subsequent questions?"

Bulger spoke only one word on Wednesday. When Casper asked if he would like to make a statement, he stood, said "no," and sat down.

G. Jeffrey MacDonald reported from Boston


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