A confessed killer who was a member James "Whitey" Bulger's gang testified Monday about numerous murders he said the group committed, including the shooting deaths of a woman and a teenager, as prosecutors showed images of dead bodies and blood-splattered cars from Boston's gang wars.
John Martorano has admitted to 20 murders of his own, and he has been billed as one of the prosecution's star witnesses in its case against the 83-year-old Bulger, who stands accused of 19 murders and other charges on a federal racketeering indictment.
Bulger was one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives until he was caught in 2011 while living under an assumed name in Santa Monica, Calif. He has pleaded not guilty.
Martorano, 72, wore a solid navy suit, a light blue dress-shirt with a matching pocket square and a dark tie to court Monday. He tesitifed that Bulger was one of his best friends -- he even named his son after him -- until he found out the Winter Hill Gang boss was an FBI snitch.
"After I learned that they [Bulger and another partner] were informants, it sort of broke my heart," said Martorano. "I was beside myself with it."
Martorano first met Bulger around 1972, at Duffy's, a South Boston bar he owned with his brother Jimmy. According to Martorano, it was William Bulger, Whitey's brother and a longtime Massachusetts state senator, who introduced Whitey to FBI agent John Connolly, touching off a corrupt partnership that tainted the bureau's reputation and further enabled Bulger's iron-fisted rule over the world of organized crime.
"If you can keep my brother out of trouble, it would be helpful to him," Martorano recalled William Bulger saying to Connolly.
Martorano's gory testimony was filled with tales of shootings, stabbings and car crashes that killed not only underworld rivals but innocent bystanders, some slain in cases of mistaken identity or simply for showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In one instance, Martorano described unloading his gun on three people in a parked car during a blizzard. He was looking for a man named Herbert Smith who had supposedly laughed at Stephen Flemmi, another member of the Winter Hill Gang. Smith was killed in the barrage, but the gunfire also took the lives of a woman and a teenage boy.
"I wanted to shoot myself," Martorano said in a deep, gruff voice, recalling the incident. "But I can't change it."
He told another story of being on a date with a woman outside the Sugar Shack in downtown Boston, where he said a man attacked him with a knife. Martorano recalled gaining the upper hand and stabbing the assailant with his own knife, then stuffing the man in the trunk of his car. Martorano claimed he planned to drop the attacker-turned-victim at a hospital but killed him instead, because he started fighting again when Martorano opened the trunk.
Martorano testified that Bulger was involved in the 1974 murder of Alfred “Indian Al” Notarangeli, a gangster whom the Italian mafia wanted dead. They used several cars to pull off the hit: Martorano was in car at the lead of the formation and shot Notarangeili while Bulger drove unarmed in a car following behind as backup, he said.
That shooting followed a failed attempt on Notarangeli's life in which a bartender named Michael Milano was mistakenly killed because he drove a car similar to Notarangeli's brown Mercedes.
Another time, Martorano said Bulger helped clean up a mess in the gang's Somerville garage hangout after Martorano killed a crook they feared would talk to the police.
"There was blood everywhere," Martorano recalled.
Martorano served 12 years for pleading guilty to 10 murders in federal court and to two others in state courts for killings in Tulsa, Okla., and Miami. He received a light sentence in exchange for testifying against former members of Bulger's syndicate. The title of his autobiography, co-authored with Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr, is Hitman: The Untold Story of Johnny Martorano, Whitey's Enforcer and the Most Feared Gangster in the Underworld.
But on Monday Martorano disputed the characterization of himself as a hitman, saying he wasn't paid to kill a soul. He went along with the book title because Carr "thought it would sell better," he said, drawing laughter from members of the press observing the testimony from another room.
Tommy Donahue, whose father was allegedly fatally shot by Bulger during an attack on another man, called Martorano's testimony "unbelievable."
"He's a real killer," Donahue said to reporters gathered outside the John Joseph Moakley Federal Court in Boston.
Martorano's testimony will resume Tuesday and could last several days. Before he appeared on the stand Monday, ex-bookie Richard O'Brien resumed testimony he had begun Friday.
O'Brien testified last week that he paid "rent" to Bulger's gang to run his bookmaking operation. He also said that Bulger threatened an agent who refused to repay a large debt to O'Brien.
But on Monday, during cross examination from Bulger's defense team, O'Brien's memory was hazy. He said he didn't recall meeting with state and federal authorities on six occasions in 1999 to discuss what he knew about organized crime.
Defense attorney J.W. Carney tried to pierce O'Brien's credibility by getting him to admit that he had lied under oath to other juries. O'Brien said he did so because he feared payback from Flemmi, the Bulger associate.
Carney sought another vulnerability, questioning O'Brien about his decision to testify against his former business partners in organized crime, including Bulger.
In 1999, O'Brien and his daughter Tara faced prison sentences related to their illegal gambling operation, but each got probation because O'Brien cooperated with federal investigators.
Carney asked Monday if there was anything O'Brien wouldn't do to spare his daughter from imprisonment.
"I would do about anything to get her out," O'Brien replied.