Courtroom artist says she’s ‘never seen anything like’ Bulger on trial

Courtroom artist Margaret Small said Whitey Bulger¿s posture barely changed throughout his trail.
(Alana Semuels / Los Angeles Times)

BOSTON -- There were dozens of sordid details that have helped illuminate the personality and actions of James J. “Whitey” Bulger during his two-month trial and two-day sentencing hearing. But Margaret Small paid close attention to one detail in particular -- Bulger’s posture as he sat in court, day after day, listening to witnesses testify against him and family members rebuke him for his actions.

Small is a courtroom artist, and attended every day of the Bulger trial, producing giant sketches: Bulger in an orange jumpsuit, Bulger’s lawyers arguing a point, family members of Bulger’s victims struggling with their emotions as they testified.

It’s the kind of work she’s done for 37 years in courtrooms that don’t allow cameras. But Small says that in all her years sketching trials she has never seen anyone sit so still for so long.

“It was more like an invisible man there,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like it, I don’t think anyone else has ever seen anything like it, ever.”


People on trial will shift in their seats, bring their hands to their face, turn to their lawyers or fidget, Small said. She can draw them one way, and then draw them a different way, as they shift and move, showing different aspects of themselves. Not Bulger.

“This is an 84-year-old man with such discipline, such control, you have to wonder, what’s that coming from? What’s it all about?” Small said Thursday.

There were only a few times when Bulger’s posture seemed to change, she said. That was when his one-time associate, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, testified in court, calling Bulger an informant. The two exchanged words, though it is unclear what Bulger said. In the numerous days that Flemmi testified, Bulger’s posture got a little worse each day, Small said, until he was fairly hunched over. Once Flemmi left the witness stand, Bulger sat up straight again, and didn’t move from that position after.

Bulger’s lawyer J.W. Carney shed some light on his client’s bearing during the sentencing hearing after court Thursday, saying that Bulger had decided not to participate in the sentencing process because he considered the trial a sham and did not want to react at all to anything happening in court.

“I think Jim is pleased that he held to his principles, that he did not participate in the sentencing portion of the trial,” Carney said. “It took a lot of discipline for him not to react emotionally to some of the statements that were made, and he’s proud that he was able to conduct himself in that fashion, where he did not react or speak during the sentencing portion.”

It was something that irritated victims’ families, who at times called Bulger a “coward” for not looking at them.

Bulger’s face during sentencing was beamed to reporters in an overflow courtroom via closed-circuit television, but it will live in perpetuity in the work of Small and the two other sketch artists in court Thursday. One had flown in from Baltimore to attend, she said.

Her final drawing from the Bulger trial is that of Bulger sitting facing the judge and the American flag. He is wearing a bright orange jumpsuit.

It caps a fascinating and moving trial, she said, calling it a highlight of her career.

“The cast of characters in this trial was extremely interesting and rich,” she said. “It spanned the time of mobsters and gangsters when there were rifle shootings and the gangland wars. Those times are over.”


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Twitter: @AlanaSemuels