In his third day of testimony, Stephen “the Rifleman” Flemmi testified in gritty detail to a seemingly unending litany of murder and mayhem across South Boston in the 1980s, guided by gang leader James “Whitey” Bulger.
Testifying in US District Court, which overlooks the South Boston that was the home turf of Mr. Bulger’s Winter Hill gang for more than two decades, Mr. Flemmi showed little emotion while describing the extortion, money laundering, illegal drug sales, and gun running that were the gang’s stock and trade.
It was murder and a ruthless willingness to drop the hammer on anyone who might one day become a witness against the gang – or even someone who was simply a dropper of gang names to impress people – that was Bulger’s purview, Flemmi testified.
On Friday, Flemmi detailed how he helped plan – and mop up after – the killing of mob figures, businessmen, and potential informants, or “rats,” including even Flemmi’s own girlfriend, Debra Davis.
Flemmi picked up on Monday with four examples of murders that he said Bulger carried out himself, saying he either witnessed the killings himself or was told of them in detail by Bulger. One alleged victim was Brian Halloran, an associate of the gang, who was killed in a hail of gunfire by Bulger, Flemmi said Bulger told him. But he witnessed the killings of three other Bulger victims included Arthur “Bucky” Barrett, a small-time crook; John McIntyre, a gun runner, and Deborah Hussey, Flemmi’s stepdaughter.
In each of the latter three cases, Flemmi testified that Bulger had insisted each victim had to be killed because they were likely either to become informants or to testify in court against them. Each was lured to the same South Boston home and then murdered, he said.
In the case of Hussey, Flemmi said Bulger “stepped out from behind the top of the basement stairs, grabbed her by the throat, and started strangling her…. It didn’t take long. She was a very fragile woman.”
In each case, Flemmi said he and other gang members then “cleaned up” by discarding the victims’ clothing and removing teeth to hinder identification, before burying them in the basement. Bulger, meanwhile, would take a nap or relax in an upstairs room of the house after his killings, Flemmi said.
Flemmi’s graphic testimony is a key element of the prosecution’s case, backing up two other main witnesses against Bulger – Kevin Weeks and John Martorano – who have already testified. The goal: provide the jury with corroborating testimony that proves beyond a reasonable doubt the 32 racketeering charges, including 19 murders, against Bulger.
With a federal indictment bearing down on the pair in 1994, Bulger fled Boston and lived on the run for 16 years before being caught, while former partner Flemmi was arrested and eventually confessed to 10 murders – escaping the death penalty through a deal with prosecutors.
Some of the gang’s victims were killed spontaneously, Flemmi said. Barrett, for instance, was shot by Bulger without warning inside the same South Boston home where Hussey and McIntyre were murdered. Barrett’s shooting shocked Flemmi, he said, because the victim was standing between him and Bulger. When Flemmi complained that the bullet could have gone through Barrett and hit him, Bulger told him, “that was an asinine statement.”
In the case of Debra Hussey, his stepdaughter, he testified that he returned from time on the lam in Canada to find her hooked on drugs, living on the edge and frequenting Boston’s “combat zone” – Boston’s notorious prostitution district at that time. At one point, a bookmaker complained to Flemmi that she had robbed him of $800. Not long after, Bulger determined that Hussey was a liability who might at any time identify the gang. So the decision was made by the gang, and by Flemmi, “reluctantly” to kill her.
With prosecutors finishing their questioning of Flemmi, defense attorney Henry Brennan piled into Flemmi, accusing him of sexually abusing Hussey, who he noted once called Flemmi “daddy.” Flemmi has admitted having sexual relations with Hussey that were “consensual,” calling it moments of “weakness.”
Defense questioning of Flemmi will likely continue to probe discrepancies in Flemmi’s account of his relationship with Hussey and to paint him as a sexual predator and child molester, legal experts say, to turn the jury against him and discredit his overall testimony about Bulger.
But the government will have taken this into account, these experts say. Whatever weaknesses may exist in the testimony of either Flemmi, Mr. Weeks, or Mr. Martorano, the slack will be picked up by the others.
“Each of the witnesses the government brings forward has their own baggage,” says Michael Coyne, associate dean of the Massachusetts School of Law. “You have rapists, loan sharks, and drug dealers who poisoned their own community for years. These are really bad people. But when the jury looks back at the totality of the testimony, they’re going to find a consistent thread – it was Whitey in charge of the criminal enterprise.”