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Convicted Agent Connolly Concedes Nothing, Denies Everything

This article is more than 10 years old.

Fugitive mobster James "Whitey" Bulger was considering surrendering after he fled a federal indictment some 13 years ago in Boston, according to former FBI agent John Connolly.

Connolly tells The Boston Globe Bulger called him twice in either 1995 or 1996 to discuss a surrender.

He says he provided Bulger with the names of three potential attorneys, but says he doesn't know where Bulger was calling from.

Connolly will appear in a Miami courtroom this morning for sentencing for his role in a 1982 murder ordered by Bulger and his mob associate Stephen Flemmi.

They were once Connolly's top informants. In convicting Connolly, the jury accepted the prosecution's argument that he had told the mobsters the victim was a strong potential witness who could put them in prison.

John Connolly spoke to WBUR's David Boeri earlier this week about what has been called one of the greatest scandals in law enforcement history.

A note: It's sometimes difficult to hear Connolly on his prison phone line.

PHONE MESSAGE: This is an inmate phone call from Miami-Dade Corrections and Rehabilitation...

Former FBI agent John Connolly is calling me from his maximum security cell in Florida. That's where he's spent the last three and a half years, in solitary confinement, and where he may well spend the remainder of his life.

CONNOLLY: Go back to Flemmi testifying under oath. ... He testified I never suggested directly or indirectly to him that anyone ought to be killed.

In November, the jury found him guilty of second-degree murder with a firearm.

Connolly calls it a lynching. He continues to insist upon his innocence of every accusation and charge. He rages against the homicidal mobsters, including his longtime informant Stephen Flemmi, who testified against him and the prosecutors who gave the mobsters deals to testify.

CONNOLLY: I'm bitter because I was framed. I was used as a scapegoat, and I was used to cover up and protect people in the Justice Department.

Today, that argument is likely to get him nowhere. The Florida prosecutor is Michael Von Zamft.

VON ZAMFT: There's never been any proof that superiors told him to go ahead and give information and let people die. Yes, he was required to talk with informants but that didn't mean he had to go on vacation with them, have dinner with them, take money from them, do all the things he did.

Planning to address the court before sentencing Thursday are the wife and children of John Callahan. He's the Boston area businessman and associate of the Bulger Mob who was murdered, government witnesses testified, after Bulger told them that Connolly told him that Callahan could put them all in prison if he talked to the cops. The hearsay testimony was allowed as evidence.

VON ZAMFT: Mr. Connolly knew clearly when he gave information about Callahan what the result would be because every time he had done that someone died except for when he told them not to.

Though Connolly was only charged with the murder of Callahan in Florida, the Florida jury was allowed to hear evidence of other murders pulled off in Massachusetts, the mobsters testified, after Connolly told them of others who were taking about them to the cops. And the families of those victims will also be represented in court today.

BOERI: Do you regret not taking the stand?

CONNOLLY: I wanted to take the stand.

John Connolly said that all along. Before his first trial, in federal court in Boston in 2002, he urged the public to withhold judgment until it heard his evidence and his story. But he never took the stand and never told his story. He was convicted of racketeering and helping Bulger escape arrest. He never took the stand in this case, either. The attornies said the decision was up to him.

BOERI: You could have looked the jurors in the eye and defended yourself directly.

CONNOLLY: Yes, and my attorneys felt they would have me on the stand for 10 days ... and nitpicking on the 100,000 pages of evidence they had.

BOERI: You said, Wait till you hear my side of the story. When you hear my side of the story, I'm confident I will be vindicated.

CONNOLLY: I went around and around with my attornies on that. It was their sense that they did not have a case. The burden was on the government and they did not have a case.

But the jury here clearly disagreed. Though it acquitted Connolly of first-degree murder conspiracy and did not agree to first-degree murder, it settled for second degree murder with a firearm, a felony that carries a sentence of 30 years to life.

Now, in a last-minute motion, the defense says the judge should throw that verdict out and order a new trial because, as defense attorney Manny Casabielle says, Connolly wasn't even in Florida at the time of the killing.

CASABIELLE: The case law is crystal clear. The defendant has to be present at the scene of the shooting and has to be armed at the scene of the shooting or during the criminal act.

Take away the enhanced charge of with a firearm, and a simple second-degree murder charge against Connolly wouldn't stick, because the statute of limitations on that charge would have run out four years after the crime. But the clock never runs out on murder with a firearm and the state prosecutor said it doesn't matter that Connolly was 1,200 miles away from the murder. All that matters was that in the course of plotting the murder, he had a gun.

VON ZAMFT: When he is meeting with these people and discussing this information, he is carrying that firearm.

BOERI: He meets the standard by virtue of having a gun in Massachusetts?

VON ZAMFT: Yeah, that's correct.

BOERI: Even if having a gun is a condition of his employment by the FBI?

VON ZAMFT: We didn't chose his employment. We didn't choose for him to turn around and become a corrupt agent. He did.

The last stand for John Connolly is this motion and then the process of appeals. He's lost two such appeals for his federal conviction in Boston. In the court in Miami he'll be surrounded by the Massachusetts State Police detectives and federal agents from outside the FBI who built the case against him. He says he could have gotten out of this.

CONNOLLY: I didn't have to be here at all. I could have cut a deal with the government.

According to Connolly, he was brought to a jail in Springfield, Mass., a couple of years before his indictment in 2005, and offered a deal — a short sentence if he pleaded guilty to the Miami murder and if he testified against fellow FBI agents and supervisors in the Boston office, who the Bulger mobsters accused of taking bribes and betraying criminal
investigations.

CONNOLLY: Right now my prison is an 8-by-10 cell. That's my prison. But if I cooperated against innocent FBI agents and bear false witness, then my prison would be the entire outside world. You could never look at yourself in a mirror without knowing what you are.

The prosecutor says the judge can sentence Connolly to no less than 30 years. If he did — and the prosecution will probably ask for more — then Connolly would be eligible for parole in 10 years.

BOERI: And this time.

CONNOLLY: Well, any significant amount of time at my age is obviously tantamount to getting a death sentence.

PHONE MESSAGE: You have 60 seconds left on this call.

Giving not a foot, not even an inch, Connolly concedes nothing. Denies everything. And defends himself and his fellow FBI as the curtain closes in what's likely the last prosecution of the Bulger Mob.

For WBUR, I'm David Boeri.

This program aired on December 4, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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