BOSTON -- An admitted murderer from Boston's fearsome Winter Hill Gang faced relentless questioning about why he’s testifying against fellow ex-gang member James “Whitey" Bulger.
Wednesday’s testimony from John Martorano lacked the gore that dominated his two previous days on the stand, focusing instead on whether Martorano has been truthful in fingering Bulger for shootings in Boston, Tulsa, Okla., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The defense suggested that Martorano, 72, agreed to cooperate only to get a light sentence for the 20 murders he admits committing, and to receive benefits like cash and a dental exam.
Defense attorney Hank Brennan insinuated that Martorano would say nearly anything to save his own neck and his family, but Martorano responded, “I was told that if I told a lie I’m going to jail for the rest of my life."
Bulger is on trial, accused of 19 murders, extortion, money laundering and weapons charges. Many Bostonians never thought he'd face the sweeping racketeering indictment because he was a fugitive for 16 years. Bulger has pleaded not guilty.
Martorano was arrested in 1995 and potentially faced the death penalty for his role in the 20 murders. His family also could have been charged for allegedly laundering money he earned through bookmaking, loan sharking and other criminal endeavors.
"Your life was at stake," Brennan said to him Wednesday. "Your brother could be in trouble. Your family could be in trouble."
Soon after the arrest, Martorano reached a plea deal: He would serve 14 years in prison in exchange for testimony against Bulger, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, another Winter Hill leader, and other underworld figures.
The government did other favors for him, too. The Massachusetts state police took him to the dentist for a toothache in the mid-1990s. While in prison, the Drug Enforcement Agency deposited $6,000 into his commissary account. After prison, the federal government gave him $20,000 in "start-up money."
Martorano said he agreed to testify against Bulger and Flemmi -- his "best friends" -- when he found out they were FBI informants. He's equated them with Judas Iscariot for betraying their criminal code. "A Judas is a rat. An informant. Just a no-good guy," Martorano said. "It's the opposite of the way I want to live."
However, Brennan's cross-examination aimed to paint him as the turncoat and liar. Brennan showed that Martorano's version of his prolific violent past has evolved over time.
In the 1973 murder of rival James O'Toole, Martorano initially told police that Flemmi sat next to him in the backseat of a car as they both shot at their target. Flemmi, however, at the time was a fugitive hiding in Canada.
Martorano claimed it was a mistake, not a lie. "I was in error and I corrected it."
Contrary to many accounts, Martorano said Bulger wasn't the head of Winter Hill. The gang was more like a democracy among equal partners. There were six partners in the mid-1970s, but prison sentences and indictments whittled the syndicate down to Bulger, Flemmi and Martorano.
"Whitey wasn't my boss," said Martorano, indicating that he could largely act independently. "He would sometimes tell me what to do. He knew what buttons to press."
Martorano was once again well-dressed, wearing a gray suit, light blue shirt and deeper blue tie. Under tough questioning from Brennan, he removed his tinted glasses and wiped them off.
Bulger didn’t look at the man who named a son after him when Martorano was excused and exited the court, according to TV station NECN.
Martorano’s cousin, Joe Martorano, attended the proceedings Wednesday in a show of support.
“He just wants to live his life,” Joe Martorano told reporters outside the John Joseph Moakley courthouse. He also vouched for his honesty. "When he says something, he means it."
Seeing Bulger for the first time in roughly 30 years meant nothing to John Martorano, his cousin said. “[He] couldn’t care less.”
U.S. District Judge Denise Casper resolved two motions Wednesday, handing a victory to each side. Casper sided with the defense team and agreed to read cautionary instructions to the jury about witnesses, like Martorano, who’ve entered into plea deals with the government. She will say that their testimony might be unreliable due to their self-interest to avoid punishment.
But Casper denied a defense request to exclude murder scene photos of victims allegedly killed by Bulger. Jurors saw pictures of bloodied corpses Wednesday as part of the testimony of William Doogan, a sergeant detective in the Boston Police Department’s cold case unit.
Looking at those photos was “hurtful” to the son of a man allegedly killed by Bulger.
“It’s horrible,” said Tommy Donahue, who was 8 when his father Michael was fatally shot while driving home a friend who was Bulger’s supposed target. Jurors saw pictures of the bullet-riddled car that Donahue was driving when he was killed.
“But if you need to show these photos to show what a brutal butcher he was, so be it.”