BOSTON – It has been decades since Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger helped murder 11 people and terrorize countless others, but his actions finally caught up to him Thursday: A federal judge sentenced him to two consecutive life terms plus five years, all but guaranteeing he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
After reading a lengthy rebuke of Bulger, 84, and the names of the 11 people he was convicted of killing, U.S. District Judge Denise J. Casper imposed the sentence and ordered him to pay $19.5 million in restitution to the victims’ families.
“The scope, the callousness, the depravity of your crimes are almost unfathomable,” Casper told the expressionless Bulger, who was dressed in a bright orange jail jumpsuit. “The testimony of human suffering that you and your associates inflicted on others was at times agonizing to hear and painful to watch.”
Bulger’s sentencing for his murderous reign in the 1970s and ’80s brought to a close a sordid case that exposed FBI complicity in his crimes and left a trail of devastated families whose loved ones were killed by Bulger or his henchmen.
Many in Boston hope this is the last they hear of Bulger, whose name returned to the news in 2011 after he had spent 16 years on the run. He was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., his apartment walls stuffed with hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“The myth, the legend, the saga of James Bulger is now finally over,” U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said outside the courthouse.
Bulger’s lawyers vowed to appeal, calling on the government to investigate who in law enforcement worked with Bulger and had not been brought to justice. Bulger contended that a prosecutor had granted him immunity during his years as a crime boss, but the judge refused to allow that defense.
Many family members said they felt better after the sentencing, particularly because they were able to speak in court about the harm Bulger inflicted. “There is some closure,” said Tom Donahue, whose father, Michael, was gunned down in 1982. “I’ve been waiting 31 years for someone to get convicted of killing my dad.”
In her statement before the sentence, Casper recounted some of the factors that helped her decide on the length of time Bulger should serve. They included that he was a fugitive for 16 years and that many families had to wait decades to find out what had happened to their loved ones.
“I have also struggled with what would ever be just punishment for the unfathomable harm that you have caused,” Casper said. “And I know that any sentence I impose will be cold comfort for the losses that so many have suffered.”
The “plus five years” portion of the sentence is related to a firearms conviction that carries a mandatory five-year minimum. Bulger was also convicted of racketeering.