After seven weeks of testimony from 63 witnesses, the prosecution called to the stand its final witness on Friday to wrap up its case against alleged former mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, according to various news outlets.
David Breen, a law professor at Boston University, said finishing with Scott Garriola, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent involved in Bulger’s arrest after 16 years on the run, rather than an alleged victim who could draw sympathy from the jury, could be part of a strategy to make Bulger seem like a man who is still involved in crime and not one who has changed with years on the run.
“Sometimes you have to build a narrative in a case,” he said. “They [the prosecution] could be making this a real life crime story that says his [Bulger’s] criminal activity did not stop 20 or 30 years ago, but that it continued up until the day he was captured with all of this money and weapons.”
On Friday, Garriola took the stand and described the stash of weapons and money FBI agents found when they caught Bulger in 2011 in Santa Monica, Calif. He had been a fugitive since 1994 when he fled due to a tip the FBI was after him.
A businessman, who allegedly had a shotgun put in his mouth by Bulger as well as Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, one of the mobster’s closest associates during the 1970s and 1980s when he ran the Winter Hill Gang, also testified this week as the prosecution rested its case.
The six-day testimony from Flemmi, who is convicted of 10 murders and is serving a life sentence as part of a plea deal, ended on Thursday. He explained in detail several of the 19 murders with which Bulger is charged.
Flemmi described how Bulger allegedly strangled his girlfriend Debra Davis in 1984 because she could tell others that Bulger and Flemmi were informants for the FBI.
After the introduction of his FBI informant identification card and the file of his interaction with handler John Connolly into evidence, Bulger denied he was ever an informant against the Mafia.
“I don’t think anybody likes it [Bulger being an informant],” Flemmi said in court on Wednesday. “I don’t think Mr. Bulger likes it either.”
Breen said the defense’s attempt to refute Bulger’s informant status was a routine role of any criminal defense because it could make witnesses less credible, but the amount of emphasis on this issue was likely for Bulger’s safety.
“The two things people in custody are looked down upon for the most are for being rapists [or] pedophiles or an informant [or] rat,” he said. “If he [Bulger] is convicted and is sentenced to time, I would imagine a rat … is just not what he wants to be known as.”
After Flemmi stepped down, Richard Buccheri, an alleged victim of Bulger’s, took the stand on Thursday. He described how Bulger summoned him to a meeting in 1986, put a shotgun in his mouth and demanded his family pay Bulger $200,000.
Buccheri was involved in a property dispute that involved Kevin Weeks, another of Bulger’s close associates, and Bulger allegedly summoned him to ensure his friend’s interests were carried out.
“[Bulger said] ‘It’s going to cost you,’” Buccheri said about the incident. “[He told me] ‘If you don’t pay me in 30 days, I’m going to kill you and your family.’”
The defense will begin its case when court resumes at the U.S. District Court in South Boston on Monday. They will call a maximum of 16 witnesses to counter the 32 charges Bulger faces, which include murder, federal racketeering, extortion and money laundering.
It is still unclear whether Bulger will take the stand, but Breen said it would most likely be a bad legal strategy.
“I don’t know what evidence he [Bulger] could present, but from my experience as a prosecutor, it is almost always a bad idea for the defendant to take the stand,” he said. “There’s the risk that whatever damage the defense has been able to do to the government’s case might be undone by the defendant saying something unexpected or just being caught in a lie.”