BOSTON (AP) — They started out as 18 strangers seated in a jury box, stunned they’d been chosen to decide a case the government waited nearly two decades to try while the suspect was on the lam.
Two months later, some were shaking as they stood in the jury box and heard their verdict read convicting Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger in 11 slayings.
Three jurors in interviews with The Associated Press said the weeks from start to finish were a mix of tension, boredom and fear.
The trial testimony ran through years of vicious slayings and casual brutality. It featured testimony from corrupt FBI agents, admitted murderers and the children they made fatherless. Fear among gun-owning jurors prompted some to make sure their weapons were loaded before bed.
In the end, the jury pored over every bit of evidence and made the only decision they could, said juror Janet Uhlar-Tinney.
“I’m at peace with it,” she said.
Bulger was accused of participating in 19 murders in the ’70s and ’80s when he led the Winter Hill Gang. Prosecutors say he was an FBI informant at that time, protected by corrupt agents, including one that warned him of the indictment naming him in 1994. Bulger fled and remained free until his capture in California 16 years later.
For the 12 jurors and six alternates, the trial became all-consuming. Jurors lost weight, developed headaches and had nightmares. Juror Gusina Tremblay of Lowell said that during her train commutes, she tried keeping a journal of her thoughts but that became too much for her and she switched to playing the smartphone puzzle game, Candy Crush.
Amid the stress, the jurors got to know one another and most became friends over courthouse breakfasts of muffins and fruit. They joked about how the attorneys were so combative that they’d object to the others’ objections. They eventually came to just refer to the youthful-looking prosecutor Zachary Hafer as “The Young Fed.”
Both sides presented 77 witnesses, and Tremblay filled six notebooks trying to keep track of them. But witnesses such as Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi and ex-hitman John Mortorano proved impossible to forget as they spoke coolly of multiple killings.
Unlike Bulger, who rarely glanced at them, Flemmi and Mortorano faced the jury box head-on. During breaks in their testimony, Tremblay said, she found it most comfortable to take off her glasses and look away.
Juror Scott Hotyckey said the graphic testimony about Bulger and his cohorts prompted jurors who owned guns to take precautions at home.
“They said that actually they loaded their guns at night because they were afraid of personal injury,” he said.
When the jury got the case, some believed Bulger guilty on all counts while others questioned whether they could convict Bulger of anything in the face of such government corruption and on the word of known killers and liars.
It soon became apparent that Bulger would be convicted since he only needed to be found guilty on two acts in the 32-count racketeering indictment and the acts included the killings, extortion, money laundering and weapons charges.
But deciding whether each of the killings was proven was emotional and complicated. The jury agreed Bulger had participated in several killings, but Tremblay strongly held an increasingly minority view that Bulger was guilty on others.
Recalling her deliberations, Tremblay said she realized, “I wasn’t compromising my integrity by agreeing, ‘OK, I can see where they are coming from that there was not enough evidence.’”
The breakthrough helped clear the way for a verdict Monday.
In the moments after the verdict came down and with a media horde camped outside the courthouse, jurors slipped outside a side door and went over a bridge to Boston’s financial district, blending in with the crowd by pointing and acting like tourists.
They made their way to a back room at The Palm steakhouse, to explain their decisions to alternate jurors, who sat through the trial but weren’t part of deliberations. It was also a chance to relax after a trial that was, finally, over.
Associated Press writer Rodrique Ngowi contributed to this story from Eastham, Mass.