Thursday, November 6, 2008

Connolly convicted of second-degree murder

Connolly listened attentively to testimony earlier in the trial.
By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff

MIAMI -- Retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. was convicted today of second-degree murder for leaking information to long-time informants James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi that caused them to kill a potential witness against them 26 years ago.
The verdict, delivered by a Florida jury that deliberated for 13 hours following seven weeks of testimony, means that the 68-year-old Connolly could spend the rest of his life in prison.
It marks the complete fall from grace of the once-decorated agent who is already serving a 10-year prison term for his 2002 federal racketeering conviction for helping Bulger -- one of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted -- evade capture and protecting him from prosecution for years.
Connolly stared, expressionless, unblinking, as the verdict of the six-woman, six-man jury was announced just before 4 p.m.
Prosecutors said the conviction of second-degree murder with a firearm carried a sentence of between 30 years to life in prison. But the defense team said that they believed that Judge Stanford Blake had discretion to give Connolly a shorter sentence, because the murder occurred before a change in sentencing guidelines. Sentencing was set for Dec. 4.Jurors declined to comment as they left the building.Fred Wyshak, a federal prosecutor from Boston who assisted in the state prosecution, said, "Unless we catch Whitey Bulger, this ends what is really a sad chapter in the history of law enforcement in Boston."He added that there was nothing happy about the case. "Hopefully, this will never happen again. That was the point of this investigation, making sure this never happens again.''
After jurors left the courtroom and the judge left the bench, Connolly huddled with his lawyers, held his sister Sally's hand and hugged his brother James, a retired DEA agent.He declined to talk, saying he'd been advised not to by his lawyers."I think the jury reached a verdict of guilty because of all the uncharged bad acts that were introduced,'' said defense attorney Manuel L. Casabielle. "Obviously, some of the mud did stick.''
While convicting Connolly on one count, the jury found him not guilty of conspiracy to commit murder in the 1982 slaying in south Florida of John B. Callahan, a gregarious 45-year-old accountant who worked at some of Boston's largest accounting firms but had a fatal habit of socializing with gangsters.
Jurors apparently believed the testimony of the 74-year-old Flemmi, who is now serving a life sentence for 10 murders and testified that it was a tip from his handler, Connolly, that sealed Callahan's fate.
Facing his former handler from the witness stand, Flemmi testified that Connolly warned him and Bulger that the FBI planned to question Callahan and advised that he "wouldn't hold up'' and would likely implicate the gangsters in the 1981 slaying of a legitimate businessman, World Jai Alai president Roger Wheeler.
Hitman-turned-government witness John Martorano testified that at the urging of Bulger and Flemmi, he lured Callahan to Florida and shot him in the head. Callahan's bullet-riddled body was found in the trunk of his car at Miami International Airport on Aug. 2, 1982.
Though Connolly was only charged with Callahan's murder, prosecutors were allowed to present additional evidence dating back to the 1970s in an effort to prove that Connolly was corrupt.
Flemmi testified that Connolly, who grew up in the same South Boston housing project as Bulger, took $235,000 in payoffs from him and Bulger, and routinely leaked them information -- including tips that prompted them to kill Callahan, and two FBI informants, one in 1976 and one in 1982.
After Connolly took a $25,000 kickback in 1983 that he knew came from drug proceeds, he joked, "Hey, I'm one of the gang."
The defense called 20 witnesses, including US District Senior Judge Edward F. Harrington, who testified that Connolly had a reputation in the Boston FBI office for his ability to turn some of Boston's most dangerous criminals -- including Bulger and Flemmi -- into informants. He credited Connolly with using those informants to help the FBI decimate the New England Mafia in the 1980s.
The government called 21 witnesses during the trial. Jurors were given a stark view of Boston's underworld, FBI corruption, and murder.
The government's key witnesses were: Flemmi, Martorano, who is free after serving just 12 years for 20 murders; gangster-turned-author Kevin Weeks, who served five years for assisting Bulger in five murders; and John Morris, a former FBI supervisor who wept on the stand and admitted taking $7,000 in bribes from Bulger and Flemmi and leaking them information.
Callahan's widow, Mary, said the verdict has brought some welcome closure to herself and her two children."I know who and why after 26 years,'' said Mary Callahan, adding that the trial brought answers to all of her questions aabout her husband's murder. "Bulger is the worst thing that ever happened to Boston."Connolly "was good at his job until he got touched by Whitey," Mary Callahan said. "He chose to do the wrong thing and he's going to pay for it. Unfortunately, so will his family."
Casabielle said he thought the verdict was probably a compromise by jurors, who found Connolly not guilty of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and not guilty of first-degree murder, and instead unanimously found Connolly guilty of just one lesser charge.
He said Connolly, like the rest of the defense team, was distraught over the verdict, but believes he has many good issues on appeal.
As for whether the verdict clearly meant that jurors believed the testimony of the government's killer witnesses, Flemmi and Martorano, Casabielle frowned and rolled his eyes.
"I don't know what to make of it,'' Casabielle said. "I would be very sad if people believed Martorano or Flemmi. "Their lack of moral standards is so crystal clear. I don't know how anyone could believe them.''
Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Michael Von Zamft, who prosecuted the case with Wyshak, said Connolly's second-degree murder conviction means that jurors understood that "there was a total disregard for human life if he's giving out that information."
After the courtroom was cleared and reporters and a few bystanders were still milling around outside, Connolly, dressed in a red prison jumpsuit, shackles and handcuffs, was led down the hallway at 4:38 p.m, heading back to the local jail.