For Families, Bulger Verdict Brings Closure, Angst

Steven Davis, brother of Debra Davis, speaks outside federal court where a jury found James "Whitey" Bulger guilty on several counts of murder, racketeering and conspiracy Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 in Boston. Jurors could not agree whether Bulger was involved in Debra Davis's killing.
Associated Press + More

By JAY LINDSAY and MICHAEL MELIA, Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — The guilty verdicts against James "Whitey" Bulger brought catharsis and closure to relatives of the 11 victims in whose killings he was convicted of playing a role, but for the families of the eight people whose deaths couldn't be definitively linked to the Boston mob boss, peace will be harder to come by.

Steve Davis didn't wait for the jury to be dismissed before he walked out of the courtroom, appearing upset it had issued no finding in the 1981 strangulation of his sister Debra.

[READ: Bulger Guilty of Racketeering, Most Murders]

Outside court, Davis said he doubted whether Bulger personally strangled his sister, as Bulger's former partner and his sister's boyfriend, Stephen Flemmi, testified. But he's certain Bulger was part of it, and the jury's inability to make a finding left him "stuck in the middle like I have been for 32 years."

"Who's winning here?" Davis asked. "I lost my sister. All these people lost family members. He's losing his freedom. What do you really win here?"

The jury's decision came more than two years after Bulger's electrifying capture in California and 19 years after he became one of the nation's most notorious fugitives. It means Bulger, 83, is all but certain to spend the rest of his days in prison after sentencing in November, when even a term short of a life sentence could amount to one.

Bulger was charged primarily with racketeering, which listed 33 criminal acts — among them, 19 killings that he allegedly helped orchestrate or carried out himself during the 1970s and '80s while he led the Winter Hill Gang, Boston's ruthless Irish mob.

[READ: Bulger Calls Trial a 'Sham']

The federal jury decided he took part in 11 killings, along with nearly all the other crimes on the list, including acts of extortion, money laundering and drug dealing. He was also found guilty of 30 other offenses, including possession of machine guns.

One woman exclaimed "You've got to be kidding me!" after the jury said prosecutors hadn't proved Bulger's role in the 1975 death of Francis "Buddy" Leonard, who was shot in the head. And a visibly angry Billy O'Brien told reporters that prosecutors "dropped the ball" after the jury didn't convict Bulger in the 1973 shooting death of his father, William O'Brien.

"Five minutes they spent talking about his murder" during the trial, he said.

Patricia Donahue wept, saying it was a relief to see Bulger convicted in the murder of her husband, Michael Donahue, who authorities say was an innocent victim who died in a hail of gunfire while giving a ride to an FBI informant marked for death by Bulger.

Thomas Donahue, who was 8 when his father was killed, said: "Thirty-one years of deceit, of cover-up of my father's murder. Finally we have somebody guilty of it. Thirty-one years — that's a long time."

He said that when he heard the verdict, "I wanted to jump up. I was like, 'Damn right.'"

Bulger, nicknamed "Whitey" for his bright platinum hair, grew up in a gritty housing project in the blue-collar, Irish Catholic stronghold of South Boston. His notoriety grew parallel to the rise of his younger brother, William Bulger, who became one of the most powerful politicians in Massachusetts and led the state Senate for 17 years.

[READ: What You Need to Know About the Bulger Trial]

Whitey Bulger began clashing with police as a teenager, when he stole from the back of trucks on the South Boston waterfront. His thievery escalated, and by 1956, he was convicted of robbing banks in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Indiana. He served nine years in prison.

Investigators say he later began organizing truck carjackings, taking payments to allow others to carry them out on his territory. At a time of gang conflict in the 1960s, he brokered a truce with the Somerville-based Winter Hill Gang, and he increasingly came under scrutiny as he rose to lead the largely Irish gang.

As a crime boss, Bulger was smart, controlling and vicious, said Bob Long, a retired Massachusetts state police detective.