Monday, January 26, 2009

Winter Hill Mob rat through and through

The ratings for last night's edition of "60 Minutes" will no doubt be boffo. They had a football playoff game lead-in. They had a segment with Roger Clemens, professional baseball player, denying he took steroids. And they had Johnny Martorano, professional murderer, waxing philosophic about the art of blowing people's brains out.

more stories like thisYou'll have to forgive Emily Connors for not tuning in. Johnny Martorano helped murder her husband 33 years ago, as Ed Connors stood in a phone booth in Dorchester.

"You know what?" Emily Connors said of Martorano's schtick. "It's getting old."

She got that right. It would almost be bearable to watch this stuff if we knew it would be over and done with. But it's pretty obvious Martorano's appearance was the launch of another attempt to capitalize on the very marketable concept of the sensitive sociopath. After Martorano wraps up his government-witness obligations, which allowed him to trade the 20 human lives he took for 12 years in prison, there will be another kill-and-tell book. Another movie treatment. Some clueless Hollywood type will be snookered by all this tough-but-thoughtful hit-man jive, and we'll have to endure an endless string of breathless whispers about scripts, stars, and on-location shoots in Southie and Winter Hill.

Liesguys Lit is a lucrative genre. It's revisionist history for murderers, allowing them to imbue their venality with a sense of nobility that is otherwise missing from the brutal act of shooting someone in cold blood. And the best part for the purveyors of this junk is that almost everyone who can dispute its authenticity is either dead or not talking.

It's just as well Emily Connors didn't watch last night, because Martorano's performance was far more offensive to his victims than anything he said in court some years back when he got the sweetheart deal that allowed him to walk out of prison last year.

Johnny told Steve Kroft he didn't enjoy killing, but that he did it for his family and friends.

What a guy.

"You could never pay me to kill anybody," said Johnny, who, by job description, was paid to kill people.

"I didn't enjoy risking my life," Johnny said, "but if the cause was right I would."

He never got around to identifying these causes. Perhaps it was to free Tibet, or maybe help the nuns pay off the mortgage at an orphanage. Oh, and even though Johnny is a government witness he is not a rat because he's testifying against those who ratted before he ratted.

Got that?

Like all these criminals who trade their infamy for a few bucks, Johnny Martorano comes across as a guy who is sorry only that he got caught.

Paul Rico, the disgraced, and now dead, former FBI agent who helped Johnny kill people also helped frame a guy named Joe Salvati. Asked how he felt about Salvati doing 30 years for a murder he didn't commit, Rico replied, "What do you want, tears?"

Well, yeah, actually, we do. It would be refreshing to see one of these guys look into a camera and say, "I can't make up for my past. But I don't want to talk about it, either, because all it will do is hurt the families I already hurt."

Don't hold your breath waiting for that one.

There were a lot of names thrown around on "60 Minutes" last night. Whitey Bulger. Stevie Flemmi. They mentioned Martorano's first victim, Robert Palladino, and his last two, Roger Wheeler and John Callahan.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.c