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'Whitey' Bulger pal on his cooperation with U.S.: 'I was dead either way'

By Deborah Feyerick, CNN
updated 1:19 PM EDT, Thu July 25, 2013
James "Whitey" Bulger, the former head of Boston's Winter Hill Gang, evaded police for 16 years before being arrested with girlfriend Catherine Greig in Santa Monica, California, in 2011. After a lengthy trial, Bulger, seen here in his booking photo from June 23, 2011, has been found guilty on 31 of 32 counts -- including involvement in 11 murders. On November 14, 2013, Bulger was given two life sentences plus five years. James "Whitey" Bulger, the former head of Boston's Winter Hill Gang, evaded police for 16 years before being arrested with girlfriend Catherine Greig in Santa Monica, California, in 2011. After a lengthy trial, Bulger, seen here in his booking photo from June 23, 2011, has been found guilty on 31 of 32 counts -- including involvement in 11 murders. On November 14, 2013, Bulger was given two life sentences plus five years.
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The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
The trial of James 'Whitey' Bulger
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Bulger partner Steven Flemmi explains why he's cooperating with the government
  • "I took the path of least resistance" to spare his family many trials, he says
  • Reputed mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger is charged with murder and racketeering

(CNN) -- James "Whitey" Bulger's defense lawyer continued hammering away at one of the government's star witnesses in a Boston courtroom Wednesday, trying to portray the convicted killer as a pathological liar who should have called it quits and gone to the electric chair when he had the chance.

"Why not take the death penalty and get it over with?" Bulger attorney Hank Brennan asked Steven Flemmi.

"I was dead either way," responded the Bulger henchman, who has spent five days on the witness stand. Flemmi said he decided to cooperate with the government to spare his friends and family from having to suffer through endless trials: "I took the path of least resistance."

Key to any deal, he said, was testifying against his former crime partners. "I was facing life-in-prison, plus 30-year consecutive sentences, plus the electric chair in two states," he said, describing his testimony as non-negotiable and a package deal, "It was a global situation."

It's 'Whitey' vs. 'The Rifleman' as Bulger defense goes for top witness

'The nail in Witey Bulger's coffin'
Flemmi: Bulger killed my girlfriend
We are fascinated with mobsters and those affected by them, both in real life and on screen. "There's the reality of organized crime that nobody is in love with, and there's the mythologized version that everyone is in love with," said Ron Kuby, a lawyer who defended the late John Gotti. The cast of HBO's "The Sopranos," from left, Tony Sirico, Steve Van Zandt, James Gandolfini, Michael Imperioli and Vincent Pastore. Gandolfini died on June 19 from a heart attack at age 51. We are fascinated with mobsters and those affected by them, both in real life and on screen. "There's the reality of organized crime that nobody is in love with, and there's the mythologized version that everyone is in love with," said Ron Kuby, a lawyer who defended the late John Gotti. The cast of HBO's "The Sopranos," from left, Tony Sirico, Steve Van Zandt, James Gandolfini, Michael Imperioli and Vincent Pastore. Gandolfini died on June 19 from a heart attack at age 51.
Our fascination with the mob
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Photos: Our fascination with the mob Photos: Our fascination with the mob
James "Whitey" Bulger rose to the top of the notorious Winter Hill gang, prosecutors say, before he went into hiding for more than 16 years after a crooked FBI agent told him in December 1994 he was about to be indicted on federal racketeering charges. He was captured in Santa Monica, California, in 2011, living under a false name with his girlfriend in an apartment in the oceanside city. On August 12, the gangster was found guilty on 31 of 32 counts -- including involvement in 11 murders. Here are some other gangsters from America's past. James "Whitey" Bulger rose to the top of the notorious Winter Hill gang, prosecutors say, before he went into hiding for more than 16 years after a crooked FBI agent told him in December 1994 he was about to be indicted on federal racketeering charges. He was captured in Santa Monica, California, in 2011, living under a false name with his girlfriend in an apartment in the oceanside city. On August 12, the gangster was found guilty on 31 of 32 counts -- including involvement in 11 murders. Here are some other gangsters from America's past.
American gangsters
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Photos: American gangsters Photos: American gangsters
It's been called "the Hub of the Universe," and though Boston isn't at the center of American life the way it was when it received the nickname in the 1800s, it's still a place many American notables call home ... though, in some cases, Boston might wish they didn't. Take Whitey Bulger, for example. The gangster has been found guilty on 31 of 32 counts -- including involvement in 11 murders. His reputation was already well-established: He was the basis for Jack Nicholson's character in the Oscar-winning "The Departed." It's been called "the Hub of the Universe," and though Boston isn't at the center of American life the way it was when it received the nickname in the 1800s, it's still a place many American notables call home ... though, in some cases, Boston might wish they didn't. Take Whitey Bulger, for example. The gangster has been found guilty on 31 of 32 counts -- including involvement in 11 murders. His reputation was already well-established: He was the basis for Jack Nicholson's character in the Oscar-winning "The Departed."
Boston's famous and infamous
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Photos: Boston\'s famous and infamous Photos: Boston's famous and infamous

Flemmi pleaded guilty in 2003 to 10 murders.

Bulger's lawyer challenged Flemmi, saying he caved because he couldn't handle conditions "in the hole" in solitary confinement, on a cold floor in a 6-by-6-foot cell, with a ΒΌ-inch slit to look outside.

"I'm a human being. I'd like to have a chair," Flemmi said.

When he complained about having no TV, prosecutor Fred Wyshak jumped up: "I object. It's not the Hilton."

After his deal, Flemmi was moved to a more comfortable, undisclosed facility.

Throughout the trial, Bulger's lawyers have tried to show that as FBI informants, Bulger and Flemmi were protected by rogue FBI agents up and down the chain of command. Without that protection, the duo's reign of terror would not have been as successful or lasted as long as it did, from the early 1970s through the mid-1990s.

Juror weeps as witness details strangling death of woman

After he was arrested in January 1995, Flemmi tried arguing he had been given immunity for his criminal activity by FBI agents who looked the other way. One of them, disgraced agent John Connolly, was convicted of federal and state crimes and is serving 40 years in Florida.

Brennan has been relentless in his questioning of Flemmi, referring to him as a rat.

"A rat is someone who scurries around and feeds on other people," Brennan pointed out.

Flemmi defended his relationship with the FBI, saying both sides benefited: "It was quid pro quo, survival."

When asked whether the FBI agent Connolly ever suggested someone be killed, Flemmi answered, "He gave us information and we acted on it."

U.S. District Judge Denise Casper is reviewing the 30-person witness list submitted by Bulger's attorneys. Many can testify about Bulger's role as an informant but not about the federal murder and racketeering charges he faces. She's expected to rule on which witnesses are relevant to Bulger's defense.

Man who'd been set to testify against Bulger found dead

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