BOSTON (AP) -- One of the FBI's Most Wanted for more than a decade, James "Whitey" Bulger went on trial this week.
The 83-year-old Bulger, the alleged former leader of the Winter Hill Gang, was one of the nation's most wanted fugitives after he fled Boston in 1994. He was captured in 2011 in Santa Monica, Calif., where he had been living with his longtime girlfriend in a rent-controlled apartment. His early image as a modern-day Robin Hood who gave Thanksgiving dinners to working-class neighbors and kept drug dealers out of his South Boston neighborhood was shattered when authorities started digging up bodies.
Prosecutor Brian Kelly told the jury that Bulger was a "hands-on killer" who was responsible for "murder and mayhem" in Boston for almost 30 years. In his opening statement Wednesday, Kelly offered chilling details of some of the 19 killings Bulger is charged in, including how he allegedly strangled two 26-year-old women and how he asked one man if he wanted a bullet in the head after Bulger's attempt to strangle him with a rope failed.
Kelly said Bulger was a long-time FBI informant who provided information on the New England Mafia, his gang's rivals.
A retired state police colonel told jurors on Thursday that Bulger and his gang demanded payment from bookmakers, drug dealers and others who wanted to do business in the area they controlled. Failure to pay up could mean being run out of business, "taking a beating" or being killed, retired state police Col. Thomas Foley told the jury.
Two bookies who testified Friday told the jury they were forced to pay monthly "rent" or "tribute" payments to Bulger and his gang if they wanted to stay in business. James Katz said if bookies did not pay Bulger's gang, they could "wind up in the hospital." Richard O'Brien said he had been affiliated with the New England Mafia, but decided to operate independently after members of the mob were arrested. He said Bulger told him during a meeting, "If you want to be in business, you're with us."
Bulger's lawyer, Jay W. Carney Jr., acknowledged in his opening statement that Bulger made millions through illegal drugs, gambling and loan-sharking. But Carney told jurors three ex-mobsters who pinned murders on Bulger cannot be believed. The defense insists that Bulger was never an FBI informant. Instead, they say, Bulger paid FBI agents and other law enforcement to tip off him and his gang when they were being investigated or about to be indicted.
Under questioning by Carney, Katz acknowledged making most of his payments to Bulger's partner, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, and that he only met Bulger once. The defense is due to cross-examine O'Brien on Monday.
Eleven men and seven women are serving on the jury, including 12 regular jurors and six alternates. The trial is expected to last three to four months.
The usually stoic defendant chuckled after O'Brien testified that Bulger once threatened a man who wanted to go into business for himself by saying he had another business besides bookmaking: "Killing (expletive) like you."
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Hitman John Martorano is expected to testify Monday as one of the prosecution's star witnesses. Martorano admitted to killing 20 people and served 12 years in prison. Bulger's lawyers have attacked his credibility and the "extraordinary" deal he got from prosecutors in exchange for his cooperation.