Former Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger was sentenced Thursday to life in prison for his murderous reign in the 1970s and '80s, bringing to a close a case that exposed FBI corruption so deep that many people across the city thought he would never be brought to justice.
Bulger, 84, was defiant to the end, calling his trial on racketeering charges a sham and refusing to testify or provide information to probation officials preparing a sentencing report for the judge.
A jury convicted Bulger in August in a broad racketeering indictment that included murder, extortion, money-laundering and weapons charges. The jury convicted Bulger in 11 of the 19 killings he was charged with participating in but acquitted him of seven and could not reach a conclusion on an eighth.
Judge Denise Casper heard testimony Wednesday from a dozen relatives among the 19 slaying victims. They called him a terrorist, a punk and even Satan. Prosecutors called him a sociopath.
On Thursday, Casper delivered a blistering speech before sentencing Bulger to two consecutive life sentences plus five years, as prosecutors had requested.
She called his crimes “almost unfathomable” and the human suffering he inflicted “agonizing to hear” and “painful to watch.” She said at times during the trial she wished she and everyone else in the courtroom were watching a movie, because the horror described seemed unreal.
She read off the names of Bulger's 11 victims. “Each of these lives came to an unceremonious end at your hands or at the hands of others at your direction,” Casper said.
Bulger stood and folded his hands in front of him, expressionless, as the judge imposed his sentence. Relatives of the victims remained quiet.
His attorney Hank Brennan promised an appeal of the conviction, though he didn't say on what grounds. He railed against the plea deals given to Bulger associates who testified against him.
“Why in the world do we have a handful of murderers walking the streets?” Brennan asked.
U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said prosecutors had to make difficult decisions to get Bulger, who they believe was the organization's kingpin.
“Was it worth it? I believe so, but it's not something you enjoy doing,” Ortiz said. She added that Bulger “deserves nothing less than to spend the rest of his life in prison for the harm, the pain and the suffering that he has caused to say many in this town.”
Bulger, the inspiration for Jack Nicholson's sinister character in the 2006 movie “The Departed,” was seen for years as a Robin Hood figure who bought Thanksgiving turkeys for working-class South Boston residents and kept hard drugs out of the neighborhood. But that image was shattered when authorities started digging up bodies more than a decade ago.
Prosecutors at his two-month trial portrayed him as a cold-blooded, hands-on boss who killed anyone he saw as a threat, along with innocent people who happened to get in the way.
Corrupt Boston FBI agents protected Bulger for years while he worked simultaneously as a crime boss and an FBI informant who ratted out the rival New England Mafia and other crime groups.
Former Boston FBI agent John Connolly Jr. — Bulger's handler when he was an informant — was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of tipping him off ahead of an indictment. After receiving the tip in 1994, Bulger fled Boston and remained a fugitive for more than 16 years until he was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011.
Connolly was later convicted of second-degree murder in Florida for leaking information to Bulger that led to the slaying of a gambling executive.
Tommy Donahue, whose father, Michael, was killed by Bulger said he had been waiting 31 years for someone to be convicted for it.
“That old bastard is finally going to prison. He's going to die in prison,” he said.