DOWD: Of big rats and hitmen

  • FILE - This June 23, 2011 booking photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service shows James "Whitey" Bulger, one of the FBI's Ten Most Wanted fugitives, captured in Santa Monica, Calif., after 16 years on the run. Opening arguments in Bulger's trial begin Wednesday, June 12, 2013 in federal court in Boston. (AP Photo/ U.S. Marshals Service, File)

It all depends how you look at it, really.

One man's hit man is another's humanitarian.

Johnny "The Executioner" Martorano, who turned government witness and copped to killing 20 men and women as part of Whitey Bulger's Winter Hill Gang, explained to Whitey's lawyer Tuesday in federal court here that he was motivated by love of family and friends.

"I didn't enjoy killing anybody," he said. "I enjoyed helping a friend if I could." If anybody insulted, implicated or roughed up his brother or a friend's brother, if anybody looked at him funny while he was with a date, if anybody ratted on his fellow gang members, if anybody could eyewitness a crime committed by an "associate," he grabbed a .38 or a knife, a fake beard, a walkie-talkie or a towel to keep the blood off his car and sprang into action. And somebody usually ended up in a trunk somewhere, sometimes still groaning.

"Family and friends come first," said the bulldog-faced enforcer, looking natty with slicked back, suspiciously black hair, a dark suit, pink-tinted wire-rim glasses and a kerchief the color of fresh blood. "The priests and the nuns I grew up with taught me that. They always talked about Judas. A Judas is the worst person in the world." The 72-year-old Cambridge native did not look at his former pal, the short, trim 83-year-old Bulger of South Boston, sitting military straight at the defense table, and Bulger's ice-blue eyes did not turn toward him.

So many Judases, so little time.

Whitey sees Martorano as a Judas for making a deal with the feds and testifying against the Irish gang boss, who's pleading not guilty to involvement in 19 murders. Martorano sees Whitey as a Judas for his years as a snitch for John "Zip" Connolly, a Boston FBI agent who was a Judas to the FBI because he helped Whitey steer clear of trouble. (They were from the same ZIP code.) Whitey's younger brother, William, who rose to be a political boss in Massachusetts, was a mentor to Connolly when he was a young man.

Martorano testified on Monday that when he learned that Whitey and Stevie "The Rifleman" Flemmi were FBI informants, "it sort of broke my heart." They were his children's godfathers, and his youngest son, James Stephen, was named for them.

In a gravelly monotone, with utter aplomb, Martorano talked about those he had taken out with a shot to the temple or heart, between the eyes or in the back of the head — plus several who were hit by mistake, including a teenage boy and girl.

In a sneering cross-examination Tuesday, Henry Brennan, a lawyer on Whitey's defense team, referred to Martorano's deal for a "so-called sentence" of 14 years (12 served) for 20 murders and asked the Executioner if he felt he was killing out of honor and integrity.

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