Flemmi testifies, possible witness dead in sixth week of Bulger trial

There was drama both inside and outside the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in South Boston for the sixth week of the James “Whitey” Bulger trial as one of his closest associates testified against him and a possible witness for the prosecution was found dead.

These testimonies and circumstances, combined with previous statements from federal agents, drug dealers and alleged victims, has made the case for Bulger’s defense almost futile, said Richard Lehr, a journalism professor at Boston University who has written several books about Bulger’s life.

“It’s not going so well for Whitey,” he said. “It’s just such an accumulative mass of stuff piling up against him, it’s hard to imagine a jury not finding him guilty. And they only need to find him guilty of a few things … and he’s done.”

Several witnesses took the stand earlier this week, but the prosecution spent the most time with Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi — Bulger’s right hand man when he ran the Winter Hill Gang in South Boston during the 1970s and 1980s — to speak about several of the 19 murders that Bulger allegedly committed. He testified under a plea deal for 10 confessed murders and a life sentence in prison.

Flemmi testified briefly on Thursday and for all of Friday. Of the killings he described, the prosecution placed emphasis on a night in 1981 when Bulger allegedly strangled and killed Debra Davis, Flemmi’s girlfriend, because she may have revealed that Bulger and Flemmi were informants for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Bulger still denies that he and Flemmi were involved with the FBI.

“It [the killing] affected me,” he said, explaining why he did nothing to stop Bulger. “It will affect me until the day I die.”

Flemmi’s testimony, which will continue Monday, has been recognized as one of the most anticipated in the trial. His statement came at the same time as Stephen Rakes, an alleged extortion victim of Bulger’s associates in 1984, was found dead on Wednesday in Lincoln. He was on the prosecution’s list of witnesses until Tuesday.

Rakes’s cause of death as of yet is unknown, according to a Thursday press release from the Mass. Chief Medical Examiner’s Office.

Tommy Donahue, whose father was allegedly killed on an order from Bulger, and who had spoken to Rakes on Tuesday in the courtroom, said Rakes had been looking forward to testifying.

“He [Rakes] was nervous … [but] he said he wanted to get up there and tell his side of the story,” Donahue said on Thursday.

Earlier in the week, the jury heard testimony from a drug dealer and a businessman, who both allegedly had their lives threatened by Bulger and who were forced to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to his gang, a former chief medical examiner, who showed the death certificates of the 19 people Bulger stands accused of killing and an ex-FBI agent.

With previous testimony from FBI agents and the introduction of Bulger’s informant identification card into evidence, Lehr said the defense’s case to prove Bulger was not an informant was a waste of time and an unusual legal tactic on the part of the defense.

“At times, I feel like the lawyers are embarrassing themselves,” he said. “It’s like arguing the world is flat. He was an informant. It’s done … From his point of view, I can understand that he convinced himself he wasn’t an informant … but he can’t spin the universe so he can sleep at night.”

Bulger faces more than 30 charges including murder, extortion and racketeering for his activity in the 1970s and 1980s. After 16 years on the run from the FBI, he was caught in Santa Monica, Calif. in 2011. His trial is expected to last into September.

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