The Bulger Jury Apparently Didn’t Like John Martorano

They found many of the murders he testified about “not proven.”

Though Whitey Bulger’s jury found the old man guilty of enough crimes to put him away for life many times over, they also declared the government’s case in eight of his alleged murders “not proven.” In each of those exonerations, there was a common through-line: hitman John Martorano was often the one to point his finger at Bulger. The jury, it seems, didn’t trust him in cases where his word stood alone.

Judge Casper said she’ll delay releasing the names of the jurors to the public until Friday, which means we can only speculate until then about the thought process that drove their decisions. But judging from the specific murders they deemed unproven, we can speculate that they didn’t have a lot of faith in Martorano. And in fact, one juror who has already spoken to WBZ, Scott Hotyckey, said there was another juror “that constantly said that Martorano, his testimony was not believable. Over and over, you couldn’t believe anything they said because of the government.”

The former Bulger hitman has admitted to 20 murders, for which he served only 12 years in prison. The families of Bulger’s victims and his defense attorneys were actually united in their distaste for the deals the prosecutors cut with Bulger’s former associates in order to make a case against him. The Bulger team’s closing arguments focused in on those deals and their unsavory beneficiaries.

The first batch of murders in which the jury found evidence lacking are known as the Notarangeli murders. Martorano testified that from 1973 to 1974 he and Bulger made several attempts to kill Al Notarangeli, leader of the Somerville-based Notarangeli gang. They offed several innocents in the process. For each of the murders—Michael Milano, Al Plummer, William O’Brien, and Notarangeli himself—Martorano testified to acting either with Bulger’s approval or alongside Bulger himself.

As for the other key witnesses who tied Bulger to several of his crimes through the course of the trial, Stephen Flemmi hadn’t yet returned from Canada, where he was avoiding law enforcement for several years, during this batch of murders. Kevin Weeks was still in high school. The murders of James O’Toole and James Sousa, both of which the jury found “not proven,” also predated Flemmi’s return to Boston. So whereas other murders featured corroborating testimony, often supported by exhumed bodies that backed up their stories, these few featured Martorano alone. The jury, apparently, didn’t feel confident picking one monster over another.

As for Debra Davis’s slaying, the one murder where the jury ended up undecided—neither declaring it proven nor unproven—there seemed to be a vote of no confidence in Flemmi. It was he, not Martorano, who testified that Bulger had him lure Davis into a house where Bulger then strangled her to death. Bulger’s lawyers tried to provide evidence that Flemmi, not Bulger, had motive to kill Davis. Bulger’s lawyers made the same argument about the murder of Deborah Hussey, Flemmi’s step-daughter. But there, Weeks testified to being present for the murder. So again, it was two otherwise controversial witnesses rather than just one.

Bulger’s lawyers said after court that their defendant was pleased with the verdict because he’d long ago accepted that he’d die in prison and merely wanted to expose the government corruption involved in his case. The victims’ families, strangely, seemed to support the defense’s goals at times, even nodding along during closing arguments. These verdicts seem to be a rebuke of, if not government corruption, then the cozy relationship between the government and its cooperating witnesses. Of course, those families who didn’t get justice yesterday are left in an odd position. They can’t like the deal that allowed Martorano to walk free. But they can’t like a verdict that doesn’t lay partial blame with Bulger either.