It finally hit me as I was standing on the second floor of John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in South Boston Thursday morning, gazing out of its impressive wall of glass: I was about to hear and report on the opening statements of what will be one of the most famous trials of all time.
While I never knew exactly how much Thursday would influence me, I have known for years now the importance of this trial to both Boston and to the world of journalism. On June 22, 2011, law enforcement officials arrested James “Whitey” Bulger and his girlfriend, Catherine Grieg, in Santa Monica, Calif. I can remember reading Kevin Weeks’ book, Brutal, out loud to my mother off the screen of my iPhone the next day in the car on the way to Martha’s Vineyard. While our interest in the case of the alleged mobster and leader of the Winter Hill Gang hit its peak just after his arrest after 16 years on the lam, I had grown up hearing about Bulger, a Boston legend, infamous for ruling my city’s underground for more than 30 years. Weeks said Bulger once told him, in his life, he’d killed 40 men.
Weeks, one of Bulger’s ex-hechmen who served jail time for murder, eventually became an FBI informant, revealing alleged truths about Bulger’s rackets to reduce his own sentence. His book was as fascinating as it was shocking, in its descriptions of Bulger’s hold on Boston in the ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s before he fled the city in 1994. Weeks provided readers with gruesome, in-depth accounts of he and Bulger’s exploits, in which they murdered victims and buried them in the basement of a house at 799 East 3rd Street in South Boston, only to have to dig the corpses up again years later and re-bury them miles away upon deciding to sell the house.
Additionally, Weeks spared no details revolving around Bulger’s alleged shakedown business, wherein he would use fear and intimidation to convince locals to fork over large sums of cash. He would tell a cocaine dealer or a bookkeeper, or, really, anyone he didn’t like, that someone had paid Bulger a certain amount of cash to murder them. Then, he’d have them pay him off to not. The thought of one man manipulating and double-crossing so many people is almost unfathomable. No movie that I’ve seen (such as The Departed) has done Bulger’s true influence justice.
Along with Bulger’s other ex-cronies Stephen Flemmi and John Martorano, Weeks will testify against Bulger at some point over the coming months. J.W. Carney Jr., representing Bulger, largely sought to discredit all three in his opening argument, recommending that jurors be wary of testimony from three known murderers. However, he did admit that Bulger lead a life of crime. That much, it seemed, he could not deny without losing credibility himself.
The trial is set to last until mid-September. Its proceedings are being followed by all major Boston news outlets, including the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. Additionally, outlets such as CNN and the New York Times have been keeping up with the case’s happenings. Most news organizations had several representatives present either in Courtroom 11 with Bulger or in Courtroom 6, the media overflow room. I sat next to CNN producer Ross Levitt and near the Globe’s Milton Valencia and Kevin Cullen in the overflow room, which broadcast the proceedings on two large TVs with an accompanying audio feed.
For years now, I’ve been looking forward to having the opportunity to watch Bulger’s trial. I never imagined I’d actually be able to cover it, something which, as a Boston-area native and a student journalist, has always been on my bucket list. It was really exciting listening to opening arguments and writing my story afterward, which can be found here. Lastly, I’d like to give a shout-out to the staff at Moakley, who were very accommodating even though I’m just a college student journalist. They helped me get a media pass which allowed me to sit in the overflow room and also to bring in my laptop and phone on just two days’ notice which was unbelievably helpful.