BOSTON – A former FBI agent who admitted taking payoffs from James “Whitey” Bulger offered a tearful apology Monday to the family of one of Bulger’s alleged murder victims, but the man’s widow said his words “didn’t mean anything.”
The apology came as John Morris was being cross-examined by a defense lawyer at Bulger’s racketeering trial. Bulger, 83, is charged with participating in 19 murders in the 1970s and ’80s while he allegedly led the notorious Winter Hill Gang.
Morris testified that he told fellow FBI agent John Connolly that Edward “Brian” Halloran had given authorities information about a murder Bulger’s gang was suspected of committing. At the time, both Morris and Connolly — his subordinate — had corrupt relationships with Bulger, who he said was a longtime FBI informant at the same time he was committing a litany of crimes.
Prosecutors say Halloran and Michael Donahue — an innocent bystander who had offered Halloran a ride home — were killed in 1982 after Connolly leaked the information to Bulger. Bulger is accused of opening fire on the car as the two men left a Boston restaurant.
Morris’ voice cracked and he appeared to choke back tears as he looked at Donahue’s widow, Patricia, and his three grown sons seated in the courtroom. Morris apologized for “things that I may have done and things that I didn’t do.”
“Not a day in my life has gone by that I haven’t thought about this. Not a day in my life has gone by that I haven’t prayed that God gives you blessing and comfort for the pain that you suffered,” Morris said.
Patricia Donahue said she believes Morris was sincere, but said his apology came “way, way too late.”
“Those words didn’t mean anything to me,” she said. “While he’s getting his (FBI) promotions, I’m mourning my husband.”
Morris testified earlier that he played “no direct role” in the two killings. He said he believed Halloran was in protective custody and was about to enter the federal witness protection program when he talked to Connolly about him.
“It was spontaneous,” he said. “I didn’t plan it. It just happened. I wish it hadn’t.”
Bulger attorney Hank Brennan asked Morris if he knew he was “signing Mr. Halloran’s death warrant” by telling Connolly he was cooperating against Bulger.
“I thought he was safe,” Morris said.
Morris admitted taking $7,000 in payoffs, two cases of wine and other gifts from Bulger and his gang. He was given immunity from prosecution for his testimony during hearings in the 1990s and later for his testimony against Connolly in two separate trials in Massachusetts and Florida.
Connolly was convicted of racketeering and second-degree murder for leaking information to Bulger and his gang. It was a tip from Connolly that prompted Bulger to flee Boston in 1994. He was one of the nation’s most wanted fugitives until he was finally captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011.
Bulger has pleaded not guilty and denies being an informant for the FBI.
In other testimony Monday, prosecutors called a former drug dealer who said he went into business with Bulger in 1980.
Joseph Tower, who received immunity from prosecution, said he was a musician and a cocaine and marijuana dealer when he first met Bulger. He said he was approached by a Bulger associate who offered to protect him and his customers from harassment by others trying to cut into his business.
At the time, Tower said, the business was selling about a kilo of cocaine every week.
Tower called Bulger the “protection” in the organization and said Bulger regularly collected his share of the profits.
Bulger laughed audibly several times as Tower testified energetically about how Bulger’s name instilled fear in people.
Tower said that after he was arrested and served time in prison, he was told by a Bulger associate that he was being forced out of the business.
Tower said he did not try to sell drugs on his own after that.
“They don’t fool around,” he said. “You’d get approached once if you were lucky, but you’d get hurt.”