Friday, November 15, 2013

Limited Resolution in the Whitey Bulger Conviction

Photo: AP/U.S. Department of Justice
On Thursday, 84-year-old Whitey Bulger received two consecutive life sentences, an additional five years in prison, and $19.5 million in restitution for 11 murders, racketeering, and other crimes. The testimony was gruesome, the accounts from victims’ family members tragic.

Bulger inspired Jack Nicholson’s character in 2006’s The Departed. Two distinct films about the convicted South Boston crime boss are currently in the works; one was originally set to star Johnny Depp, while the other is a Ben Affleck-Matt Damon production.

In general, audiences can’t get enough of the gangster life. But the Bulger saga is uniquely fascinating because, according to reports, the protagonist was simultaneously eliminating victims and whispering into the ears of FBI agents.


Bulger partially protested what he classified as his “sham” trial. He didn’t testify, and his lawyers didn’t propose a sentence. He apparently considered the trial a mockery because the judge presiding over it blocked him from arguing that the feds had granted him immunity for his crimes, and from presenting evidence of FBI corruption.

It’s the corruption angle that’s so intriguing to filmmakers and viewers: Bulger reportedly had an intimate relationship with the FBI dating back to his rise to power in the 1970s.

A History of Complicity

In late 1994, FBI agents who included John Connolly allegedly warned Bulger of an impending indictment. The kingpin went on the lam, where he remained for 16 years, until authorities finally nabbed him in Santa Monica, California. Connolly, represented by Matt Damon’s Agent Sullivan in The Departed, has been in prison since 2002 for racketeering and second degree murder convictions.

Ultimately, it appears that much isn't known about the FBI’s level of complicity in Bulger’s exploits—his lawyers and many others have called for more transparency, to little avail. And adding to the curiousness of the case is the fact that some of Bulger’s better known accomplices, including one who admitted to 20 murders, are free, having completed prison sentences.

Little More to Come

Bulger’s conviction and sentencing don’t seem to offer much resolution, at least on the macro level.  The family members of his victims report feeling better, but society at large remains mostly in the dark. People want to know how, exactly, the federal government handled the decades-long ordeal. The upcoming Bulger flicks will surely provide more in the way of intrigue, but that’s probably about all we can expect.