The Boston mobster, captured in Santa Monica in 2011 after 16 years on the run, indicated in the first day of a two-day sentencing hearing that he would not speak, a disappointing turn of events for some who had wanted to hear his side of events.
Bulger considers the trial a sham, lawyer Jay Carney said outside the courthouse, and thus does not want to participate.
His decision capped an emotional day of testimony from families of Bulger's victims, who spoke of how Bulger's actions had irreparably damaged them. They sat quietly in the packed courtroom in a spacious courthouse on Boston's revitalized waterfront, just as many did during the long weeks of the trial this summer. Some broke into tears while speaking; others seemed angry rather than sad. Many thanked Judge Denise J. Casper and said they looked forward to having the trial behind them.
"It's frankly hard to know where to start in this case," prosecutor Brian Kelly said in his opening statement. "The defendant has committed one heinous crime after another. He strangles people, he shoots people who are handcuffed, he moves bodies from one place to another, he makes up reasons to extort people for hundreds of thousands of dollars."
Bulger faces a maximum sentence of life in prison plus five years. Casper said she would sentence him Thursday morning.
Through it all, Bulger sat in an orange jumpsuit -- a contrast from the nicer clothes he wore during the trial -- and looked down at a notepad, barely reacting at all. His decision not to look at the victims' families frustrated a few of the speakers, who stood parallel to Bulger's seat.
“You won't even turn around and look at us, coward?” said Patrick Callahan, the son of
Bulger appeared to look up only twice, once when Teresa Bond, the daughter of a victim, asked him to, and once when Steven Davis, the brother of alleged victim Debra Davis, shouted at him, breaking down in tears.
The speakers included family members of victims of the 11 people Bulger was convicted of killing, as well as family members of some people who the jury did not reach a decision on. Casper said she had decided to hear from both groups.
Some of the victims' testimonies brought listeners back to a Boston of days past, including details from Sean McGonagle, the son of Paul McGonagle, an alleged Boston rival.
"You stooped to an all-time low when you called my house, I answered, you told me, 'Your father's not coming home for Christmas.' When I asked who this is, you stated, 'Santa Claus,' " McGonagle said. "In the end, you're really just an intellectually, physically, mentally deficient, sad, lonely and irrelevant old man."
Patricia Donahue, whose husband, Michael Donahue, was gunned down while giving a ride to someone who was a Bulger target, remembered a man who was 32 when he died in 1982, who liked to cook steaks and would stay up all night assembling bicycles for his three sons before Christmas.
"On May 11, 1982, a complete stranger named Whitey Bulger crossed our paths, and everything we cherished was gone in the blink of an eye," she said.
Kathleen Connors Nichols, who appeared on behalf of herself and six siblings, spoke of learning about her father’s death in 1975 from a graphic photo of his body on the front page of the
"There's a stigma attached to murder that only the victims' families know, and it is mentally exhausting," she said. "Seemingly simple questions become a mental battle with yourself, on, how do I answer this: 'How did your father die?' Do you tell them the shocking truth, that he was practically cut in half from the overkill of ammo fired into his body?"
"Quite possibly our father could be alive today if it weren't for the corrupt proclivities of federal, state and Boston city law enforcement," Connors Nichols said.
Perhaps the most vehement statement against the FBI came from David Wheeler, the son of Roger Wheeler, a Tulsa businessman slain as he sat in his car outside a golf course. Wheeler had owned World Jai Alai, a sports betting operation, and suspected Bulger associates of skimming money from the business. The Wheelers have tried to sue the FBI, but the suit was rejected because the statute of limitations had expired.
"My father's fatal mistake proved to be his faith in the FBI," Wheeler said.
"You have turned from government-sponsored assassin into bag of jailhouse rags, waiting to be stored on cold steel," he told Bulger.
Wheeler spoke of a father who liked to take his children hiking, fishing and water skiing. He was the last victim to speak and ended the day of testimony by addressing the FBI.
"Greatest shame of all on the FBI, and in particular those agents and officials who violated their sacred oaths and defrauded the special trust of the American people," he said. "My family and I have nothing but contempt for you."
Many of the families said outside court that they felt some relief after the trial. One, Bill O'Brien, said he had been writing to Bulger while he was in jail. Bulger has also corresponded with juror No. 12, Janet Uhlar.
"Today I am leaving this ordeal in this courtroom. It no longer will be a roadblock in my family's life," said Meredith Rakes, the daughter of Stephen Rakes, an extortion victim who was bizarrely murdered earlier this year. "The healing can begin."
As for Bulger, it's unclear how he feels about the victims' statements. His lawyers said Wednesday that he had offered to plead guilty in exchange for leniency for his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, and also said Bulger felt frustrated that he was not able to talk about FBI corruption during the trial.
"From his perspective, he did not receive a fair trial because he was not able to put forward everything that he could have told about the corruption and about the immunity agreement he had reached with the federal prosecutor," said Bulger lawyer Carney outside the courthouse. "The trial became a sham, in his mind, as a result."
But that doesn't' mean Bulger wasn't listening, he said. Carney said Bulger almost turned to face his victims, even though he had planned not to.
"It was one of the most powerful presentations I've ever seen in the courtroom," he said about the impact statements. "I don't think James Bulger was immune to that emotion; he was affected by it. I sat right next to him, I saw how he reacted, and I think that was in response to the power of their words."