The Whitey Bulger Trial

The Whitey Bulger Trial: The First of a Parade of Chowder-Thick Regional Accents
Murder, theft, and other wickedness.
June 14 2013 11:24 AM

The Whitey Bulger Trial

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The first of what I hope will be a parade of chowder-thick regional accents.

J.W. Carney, defense attorney for accused mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger, talks to reporters as he arrives at the U.S. Federal Courthouse for the start of Bulger's trial in Boston.
J.W. Carney, defense attorney for Whitey Bulger, talks to reporters as he arrives at the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Boston on June 12, 2013

Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

8:49 a.m.: The attorneys are arguing over procedural issues before the jurors are brought in. They look a little tired. In fact, everyone I’ve seen in Boston this morning—on the sidewalk, on my subway ride, here in the courthouse—looks somewhere between drowsy and exhausted. Why? The triple-overtime Blackhawks-Bruins Stanley Cup game didn’t end until 1 a.m. last night.

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.

Whitey looks fresh, though. No TV in his maximum-security Plymouth County Correctional Facility cell. (But maybe guards fed him updates? Is it cruel and unusual punishment to withhold playoff hockey scores?)

9:06 a.m.: Testimony begins. Former state police detective Robert Long is on the stand. Long collided with the Boston gangster scene beginning in the late ’70s and early ’80s, as part of an investigation deliciously codenamed Operation Lobster. This witness possesses the first of what I hope will be a parade of chowder-thick regional accents, and so he terms the enterprise “Awperation Lawbstah.”

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The prosecution leads Long through a description of these stakeouts, which initially seemed poised to catch Whitey committing all sorts of crimes in cahoots with all manner of Mafiosi. Every time the long claw of the lawbstah was just about to pinch, though, somebody tipped Whitey off. Long later learned that somebody was the Boston FBI.

(Long’s testimony today basically recapitulates the first third of Black Mass: Whitey Bulger, the FBI, and a Devil’s Deal, a fantastic book about the unholy marriage of Whitey and crooked Boston law enforcement agents. If, like me, you’re a Whitey watcher, I can’t recommend it enough.)

9:27 a.m.: Long narrates some surveillance footage of Whitey hanging out at a bank of payphones in the parking lot of a Howard Johnson’s. This was briefly Whitey’s office, where he’d meet with associates and take care of business. One of the entertaining sidelights of this trial will be the period-era trimmings: No burner cellphones, so mobsters are in constant search of payphones they hope won’t be wiretapped. Also, everyone in these videos is wearing very large sunglasses. One obese goon named Vinny Roberto sports a muffin top that pooches out over Sansabelt slacks. At one point, Whitey is seen standing in front of a sign advertising donuts for 86 cents a dozen. Think of the time-travel arbitrage schemes you could pull off at that kind of price! And my god, what did they charge for crullers?

9:54 a.m.: The prosecution calls retired state police Col. Thomas Foley. Foley found a stash of munitions that belonged to Whitey’s crew, and now he’s being asked to methodically identify the weapons in photos—I presume to provide the proof necessary to nail Whitey on the firearms counts he’s been charged with. Foley names one gun after another as the slides click by. Derringers, Smith & Wessons, an Uzi, a MAC-10, an M-16, an M-1 carbine.

Looking at a photo of a conference table covered in an array of handguns, knives, masks with eyeholes, and boxes of ammunition, prosecutor Fred Wyshak asks, “What’s that item in the center?”

“You mean the stapler?” asks Foley.

“Yes,” says Wyshak.

“A stapler,” says Foley.

Some of the weaponry was found in an outbuilding behind a gangster’s mother’s house. Prosecutors have now referred to this structure as a screenhouse, a gazebo, and a cabana. Whatever it is, it was also located about 100 feet away from another house, one belonging to a very prominent Massachusetts resident: former statehouse bigwig and University of Massachusetts president Billy Bulger.

“Do you know if there’s a relationship between William Bulger and the defendant?” asks Wyshak.

“Obejection! Relevance!” interrupts a defense attorney, to no avail.

“Theyah bruthahs,” answers Foley. CUE OMINOUS ORCHESTRA HIT.

12:04 p.m.: Oh, gosh, now the actual firearms are being hauled out in front of the jury! Foley is holding a fully automatic, German-made MP-40 machine gun, flipping it over to peer down at it through his half-moon reading glasses. Now he’s holding an M-3 with a muzzle suppressor and—BANG! OH MY GOD HE’S FIRING SHOTS INSIDE THE COURTROOM!

Wait, no, sorry, he just bumped the barrel into the microphone on the witness stand and it made a loud noise.

12:25 p.m.: The defense begins its cross-examination. Unfortunately for Foley, he wrote what appears to be a mildly self-aggrandizing book about his 20-year quest to arrest Whitey. The defense is plucking passages out of context, trying to make him look bad. For instance, he’s questioned about his choice to bring an in-custody mobster with a toothache to Foley’s own personal dentist. The defense tries to paint this as an inappropriate favor.

As the grilling heats up, so do Foley’s blood vessels. He’s wearing a light suit and light tie and his hair is white, so the deepening crimson of his ruddy state trooper face makes it look like a tomato has lodged in the side of a snowdrift. 

2 p.m.: We’re back after a lunch break, and Foley is still on the hot seat. The defense is attempting to discredit one of the prosecution’s star witnesses—a brutal mobster named John Martorano who admitted to cops that he’d committed 20 murders, yet is now a free man. The defense accuses Foley of letting this killer (and others) off the hook, as part of a single-minded effort to nab Whitey Bulger. Did he cut corners? Did he let things slide?

“I took what I could get to get to the bottom of what was going on here for a long time,” growls Foley, and turns a hard stare in what appears to be Whitey’s direction.

3:35 p.m.: Court is done for the day. Word among the media is that tomorrow a bookie will take the stand. Think I can still get decent odds on the Bruins?

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