Medical examiners concluded Sunday that Stephen Rakes, a possible witness in the summer trial of James “Whitey” Bulger who was found dead during the case, was killed by poison in a murder unrelated to the trial.
MaryBeth Long, spokeswoman for the Middlesex District Attorney’s office, said Rakes’s death was unrelated to the Bulger case, despite his hope to testify against the now-convicted former mob boss.
“The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has ruled that the cause of death for Stephen Rakes, 59, of Quincy, was acute cyanide toxicity and that the manner of death is homicide,” she said.
Rakes was on the prosecution’s list of witnesses for the trial against Bulger, who was facing over 30 charges including murder, extortion and racketeering, but was found dead at about 1:30 p.m. on July 17 near Mill Street in Lincoln.
Rake’s business associate, William Camuti, 69, of Sudbury, is accused of murdering Rakes and was indicted by a Middlesex Grand Jury on charges of attempted murder, misleading police and unlawful distribution of human remains, according to a press release from the Middlesex District Attorney’s office on Oct. 3.
He was reportedly going to testify that Kevin Weeks and Stephen Flemmi, two of Bulger’s closest associates, allegedly forced him to give up his liquor store at gunpoint. The two allegedly went into Rakes’ home to force it from him in 1984.
Prosecutors said Camuti owed Rakes money, which Rakes was attempting to collect when meeting Camuti in Waltham on July 16. The two went to a McDonald’s at about 1:45 p.m. on Main Street and Camuti purchased two iced coffees, one of which he allegedly mixed two teaspoons of potassium cyanide into, the release stated.
Cumati drove around neighboring towns for hours before dumping the victim’s body in Lincoln. Rakes’s body was found in the suburb on July 17, one day after he learned he would not testify against Bulger in court, according to the release.
In an investigation launched by the Lincoln Police Department and Massachusetts State Police Department, surveillance video was found that showed Rakes leaving the John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse the afternoon of July 16, where he had been attending the trial of Whitey Bulger. The video showed him wearing the same clothing when his body was found.
During the investigation, Camuti was the last person to have seen or spoken to Rakes, the release stated.
David Rossman, professor of law at Boston University, said he was surprised to find out that the murder of Stephen Rakes was not connected to the Bulger trial.
“It is an extraordinary coincidence that someone connected to the Bulger case was murdered during the trial,” he said. “The news reports at the time, however, revealed that the prosecution had announced the day prior to the discovery of the body that Mr. Rakes would not be called to testify.”
Rossman said the murder is unprecedented and he has never seen anything like this in the past.
“At least in Massachusetts, it is almost unheard of for a witness to be murdered during the course of the trial where he or she would potentially appear for the prosecution,” he said.