Witnesses, jurors shed tears as 'Whitey' Bulger trial focuses on killings

Friday, June 21, 2013 - 9:19am

BOSTON (CNN) -- They could not say for certain who shot their loved ones in brutal gangland-style "hits," but a series of witnesses captivated the courtroom -- and drove two jurors to tears -- Thursday as prosecution testimony continued in the in the federal trial of reputed Boston mob leader James "Whitey" Bulger.

One witnesses, 63-year-old Diane Sussman de Tennen, alternated between bouts of crying and attempts to smile as she recounted the night she was in a car that suddenly was riddled by bullets, leaving her then-boyfriend a quadriplegic for the remaining three decades of his life.

"I remember hearing this noise -- a continuous stream of noise of gunfire, (like) rocks being thrown...it just was nonstop ... in retrospect it was a machine gun," she said, describing the night she and her boyfriend were riding home with another man, Michael Milano, after her birthday celebration at a Boston bar.

When it was over, Sussman de Tennen recalled Thursday, her boyfriend was "covered in blood and broken glass, eyes glazed over ... (he) let out a groan." Sussman de Tennen said she reached over Milano, who was collapsed on the steering wheel, and laid on the horn until a taxi driver pulled over and called an ambulance. She learned only later that Milano was dead.

"The police told me that they were concerned for my safety because they thought I might be a target because whoever the people who machine-gunned down the car probably didn't want me as a witness," she said.

Bulger is charged in the deaths of 19 people during the nearly two decades that prosecutors say he was the head of the Irish mob in Boston. He is also charged with extortion, racketeering and money laundering.

The trial, now in its second week, has included prosecution testimony from a former hitman and Bulger colleague who testified that he and Bulger together carried out 11 killings.

That witness, John Martorano, included in his testimony details about Milano's killing, with Martorano saying he and his associates sprayed Milano's car with bullets thinking it was a gang rival target.

Jurors heard from Milano's brother, Donald Milano who immediately began crying and asked to pause questioning while apologizing to the judge profusely.

The night before his death, Michael had been at Donald's place showing off his new car, his brother testified. "He was very proud of it." Donald Milano said he heard on the radio the next day that his brother had been killed, and called home to verify

Donald Milano was in court Monday when Martorano testified about shooting at Milano's car.

Another witness, Deborah Scully, was stone-faced when she testified about the 1973 killing of her companion, William O'Brien. She was nine months pregnant with their child when he was shot and killed, she said, and she was unable to attend the funeral because she had given birth by then.

Martorano earlier testified that he, Bulger, and their associates were involved in the killing of O'Brien.

An elderly, wisecracking Ralph DeMasi, fresh out of jail after serving 21 years for conspiracy to rob an armored card, testified that he barely survived the night O'Brien was shot. He told the jury he was getting "bad vibrations" about a car that was trailing the two of them after they had met at a bar with a man described earlier in Martorano's testimony as a Bulger associate.

"I told Billy keep your eye on rear or side mirror and he said, "Aw Ralph, ain't nobody gonna hurt us," DeMasi remembered.

Then, DeMasi said, that trailing car sped up and a torrent of bullets came from it. He was hit eight times, DeMasi said, pointing out to the jury exactly where.

But none of that emotional and colorful testimony put Bulger behind the trigger.

When defense attorneys questioned Sussman de Tennen about who was behind the shooting she survived, she replied, "What I say would only be speculation ... in my mind I do know, but that's for me."

In the afternoon, the jury heard from Martorano's former bookmaker, Charles G. Raso, who testified that he paid "rent" to Bulger and his associates, including Martorano, in the amount of $1,000 a month for "law enforcement expenses," as the gang called it.

Raso was originally business partners with a man named Joe Notorangeli, who the Winter Hill gang gunned down in 1973, according to Martorano's previous testimony. Raso skipped town after the murder of his partner, saying that "I felt in fear of my own life" and later returned when his brother indicated to him that "it wasn't me they were interested in."

Shortly after returning to Boston, Raso said, he was "asked" to team up with Bulger, Martorano and the gang, an offer Raso said he had "no choice" but to accept.

Jurors are expected to hear testimony Friday on Bulger's alleged "informant" file, a document the prosecution claims proves that he was protected by the FBI for providing information. According to previous testimony, it was a rogue FBI agent now jailed who tipped Bulger off to his 1995 indictment, a tip that allowed him to go into hiding for 16 years before he was captured in California with his girlfriend in 2011.

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