Admitted mass murderer John "The Executioner" Martorano, 72, testified Monday and Tuesday against James "Whitey" Bulger, 83, calmly telling jurors about many murders he and Bulger committed in the 1970s and '80s.
After reaching a plea deal with prosecutors, Martorano, also known as "The Basin Street Butcher," spent just 12 years in prison for murdering 20 people. He was released from prison in 2007 and currently lives in a Boston suburb.
Bulger is accused of committing or ordering 19 murders, among other charges, during his reign at the helm of Boston's Winter Hill Gang. Martorano vouched for the accuracy of those criminal charges in court, recounting Bulger's direct or indirect role in several slayings.
Although his light punishment may surprise most casual news-watchers, at least one prosecutor thinks the slap on the wrist Martorano received was the right thing to do.
Assistant Miami-Dade State Attorney Michael Von Zamft told U.S. News he has no regrets about his role in negotiating the lenient sentence in exchange for Martorano's "invaluable" testimony.
"The only thing worse than giving Mr. Martorano such a plea would have been not giving Martorano the plea," Von Zamft said in a phone interview. "There were things he told us that we never would have known about."
In 2008, Von Zamft successfully prosecuted former FBI agent John Connolly for second-degree murder in the 1982 death of John Callahan. Martorano testified during the trial that he killed Callahan after the federal agent told Bulger he was intending to cooperate with authorities probing the 1981 murder of Oklahoma businessman Roger Wheeler. Martorano also shot Wheeler.
Connolly, who maintains his innocence, is serving a 40-year prison sentence in Florida.
Martorano was an "invaluable, excellent, straightforward, absolutely truthful" witness in the case, Von Zamft said.
Martorano's plea deal was arranged after multistate talks among his defense attorneys and prosecutors in Florida, Massachusetts and Oklahoma, Von Zamft said, as a "global plea" involving the U.S. attorney's office in Boston and jurisdictions where the admitted killer committed crimes.
The Florida prosecutor recalled casual conversations with Martorano before he testified in Florida. "He's a very affable person" who enjoys discussing "food and Italian ancestry," Von Zamft said.
The prosecutor side-stepped a question about whether he would feel comfortable living next door to Martorano – who professes to have committed his last murder in 1982 – but noted that the former hit man says he killed only if "it was needed to protect his friends or his business" and not for money or pleasure.
In addition to a short prison stint, Martorano received $20,000 from the Drug Enforcement Administration after being released from prison, the Boston Globe reports, as well as $250,000 for selling his story to a film company. He earned $55,000 in a book advance for co-authoring "Hitman" with former Boston Herald reporter Howie Carr and testified that he has earned another $20,000 in royalties from the book.
Martorano told jurors Tuesday that Bulger was directly involved in killing loose-lipped associate Edward Connors in Dorchester, Mass., on June 12, 1975, after the victim bragged about helping Bulger commit crimes, the Globe reports. He said he drove Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi to a phone booth Connors was using, where they murdered him.
The confessed murderer, who was arrested in Florida in 1995, said he was devastated when the FBI revealed in 1997 that Bulger and Flemmi were informants. "After I heard that they were informants, it sort of broke my heart," Martorano testified on Monday. "They broke all trust that we had, all loyalties, and I was just beside myself with it."
The deaths of 11 Martorano murder victims are included in Bulger's list of charges.
Martorano testified Tuesday that Bulger told him he had murdered Edward Halloran – who was cooperating with an FBI investigation into Martorano – as a favor in 1982. Halloran was shot dead outside a bar along with truck driver Michael Donahue, who had offered the intended target a ride home.
Among the hit man's many victims were two teenagers riding inside a car with a target, who also died. He also admits he killed the wrong person on at least one other occasion.
During opening statements last week, Bulger's attorney J.W. Carney vigorously denied that his client was an FBI informant and said Connolly, the corrupt agent, fabricated details in Bulger's FBI informant file.
"Number one, James Bulger is of Irish descent," Carney said. "And the worst thing an Irish person could consider doing is becoming an informant."
During cross-examination Tuesday, Martorano said he never accepted money for killing people and was just helping out his friends.
"I always tried to be a nice guy," he said. "Serial killers kill for fun, they like it, I don't like it ... never had any joy. Serial killers kill until they get stopped, I stopped and confessed my problems." Like Bulger, who was arrested in 2011 after 16 years in hiding, Martorano was on the run for years until he was arrested in 1995.
After Tuesday's court proceedings Carney told reporters he was very pleased with the defense's grilling of Martorano. "The cross examination by my co-counsel Hank Brennan is the very best cross examination I've seen by any lawyer in the past 35 years," he told reporters, according to NECN-TV.