U.S. Federal District Court Judge William Young has issued a lengthy decision, awarding $2.7 million in damages to the estates of three people murdered by James J. Bulger, Stephen J.
Flemmi, and their associates. Judge Young describes the story as “harrowing,” which may be an understatement.
The key defendant in this case is the U.S. Government, which will foot the bill if the decision survives appeal.
Here are some quotes, pulled from the opinion, which is linked in all of its gory detail at the bottom of this post. Judge Young:inst
Despite years of legal wrangling and an extensive factual
record, at its core this is a very simple case. Federal Bureau
of Investigation (“FBI”) agents actively protected a group of
murderers from apprehension and prosecution in order to use them as informants against La Cosa Nostra. The agents did this over a span of nearly twenty years, despite being on notice that their informants were killers and would, and indeed did, continue to murder. . . .
The FBI’s relationship with Flemmi dates back to 1964, when FBI agent H. Paul Rico opened Flemmi as an informant. Bulger was opened as an informant in 1971. Their recruitment as informants was not an accident. The FBI had made the prosecution of organized crime and La Cosa Nostra its top priority. To that end, J. Edgar Hoover himself inaugurated the Top Echelon Criminal Informant Program on June 21, 1961. Top echelon informants were defined as those “that would be able to provide high-level information on a major scale.” Both Flemmi and Bulger were designated as top echelon informants.
[The first victim, Louis Litif, murdered by Bulger, April 1980].
As to the manner of Litif’s murder, the statement to the FBI of the deceased Brian Halloran, establishes that Litif was lured to the Triple O bar where Bulger and an associate ambushed him. The autopsy report as well as expert testimony show that Litif was stabbed dozens of times with an ice-pick-like implement before he was shot in the back of the neck. Certain of the puncture wounds perforated Litif’s liver, a wound thought to cause exquisite agony.
[The second victim, Debra Davis, Flemmi’s girlfriend of 10 years, September 1981].
Flemmi had Davis murdered because after their lengthy liaison, Davis showed an inclination to get on with her life (without Flemmi) and had displayed an interest in another man. Flemmi himself testified that it was Bulger who wanted Davis murdered because he was jealous of Flemmi and Davis, and feared she knew of Flemmi’s relationship with Connolly. These, however, are the vapid maunderings of a supremely evil old man. Flemmi had Davis murdered for that most common and banal reason underlying male domestic violence against women: Flemmi thought he “controlled” Davis. ….
Flemmi lured Davis to Bulger’s mother’s house in South Boston. Bulger, lying in wait, grabbed her and scissored her neck between his forearms in order to crush her windpipe. As Flemmi watched, Bulger strangled her. Davis lost consciousness within a few minutes and died.
[Deborah Hussey, daughter of Marion Hussey, girlfriend of Flemmi who had been sexually abused by Flemmi].
Flemmi began living with Marion Hussey, Deborah Hussey’s mother, and Deborah herself when Deborah was still a child. When Deborah was a teenage minor, Flemmi began to abuse her sexually. Likely as a result of this abuse, Hussey led a troubled life, turning to drug abuse and prostitution. In late 1984, Hussey informed her mother of Flemmi’s abuse. As a result, her mother asked Flemmi to move out of the house. Deborah Hussey herself was proving an inconvenience to both Flemmi and Bulger. Hussey was relying on their reputation in South Boston to get her out of scrapes arising from her drug abuse and prostitution. As a result, Flemmi and Bulger killed her. They murdered her in much the same way they murdered their other victims, by luring her into a house and strangling her. Here again, Bulger grabbed Deborah Hussey from behind and scissored her neck between his forearms to crush her windpipe. Hussey fought desperately for her life and knocked Bulger over. When the two fell to the floor, Bulger jack-knifed his body to work his legs around Hussey’s body to crush her torso. The Court infers Hussey lost consciousness from asphyxiation and died within a few minutes.
Taken together, these related cases present a dark and cautionary tale. Here the government – our government – stooped so low as simply to disregard its fundamental legal obligation of ensuring “domestic tranquility” to all its citizens equally. Instead, having apparently written these folks off as assorted low-lifes,” it proceeded to frame innocents (e.g., Limone, Tameleo, Greco, Salvati) and knowingly expose other innocents to murder (e.g., Barrett, Donahue, Davis, Hussey). Indeed, in its arrogant hubris the government – our government – undertook to decide which informants would live (Ciulla) and which were expendable (Castucci, Litif, McIntyre, Halloran).
Then, when its perfidy was revealed, the government – our government – sought to treat its failures as nothing more than a public relations issue. First it obstructed at every turn; when that failed, its position was “a few rogue agents,” nothing more. Ignoring the deep-seated institutional failures within the FBI, its rigid hierarchical internal reporting system, the utter break-down of internal supervision, the bitter enmity its obstruction engendered within the Massachusetts State Police, and the marked continuing distrust its false affidavits have engendered in the judiciary, the government – our government – has never disciplined any high-ranking supervisor or undertaken any comprehensive transparent review or reform.
Nor is the failure limited to a single agency, however important. The arrogant hubris displayed by Rico, Connolly, and Morris, appears to pervade the government – our government – at all levels. How else to explain the conduct of the litigation here? No one gainsays the government its right vigorously to defend the taxpayers who must ultimately pay the judgment. A vigorous defense, however, cannot excuse the obstructionism in the Salemme case, or the litigation misconduct found in McIntyre, Before me, the government conducted itself with technical expertise, full obedience of the Court’s direct orders – and a striking lack of judgment. Here, the government – our government – seriously argued that the horrifying acts of its agents against our own people fell within their legitimate “discretion,” and that the victims and their families were somehow complicit in their own murders, well knowing no Commonwealth court has ever suggested such a bizarre legal theory. Most repulsive, the government – our government – virtually argued “she was asking for it,” until the Court, remembering that Massachusetts has emphatically rejected this demeaning argument, warned the government to steer clear.
“There has to be a safe place,” said Judge Richard S. Arnold. “And we have to be it.” There has to be some place in which “integrity,” “truth,” and “justice” have meaning regardless
of preconceptions, power, or public opinion. Judge Wolf’s 664- page decision in United States v. Salemme, 91 F. Supp. 2d 141 (D. Mass. 1999) spoke truth to power and there was no going back. All these related cases depend in large measure on Judge Wolf’s seminal work. For the people of Massachusetts, in all these related cases Judge Wolf is that “safe place.”
This outcome was not inevitable. Judicial independence is not immutable, even in America. These cases ought to teach us – as perhaps nothing else can – the actual cost of losing the judicial independence so vividly on display in Salemme. Here’s the partial bill: a criminal FBI agent, corrupt to the core, living in honorable retirement on a public pension; a half dozen
unsolved murders; literally dozens of people tortiously injured yet denied justice; two innocent men dying in prison under life sentences hopeless and helpless; others languishing in prison for years, three initially sentenced to death; two murdered young women lying in unmarked and forgotten graves.
Think about that cost.