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Hit man says he killed out of loyalty to family, friends

Email|Print| Text size + By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / January 4, 2008

Notorious hit man-turned-government witness John Martorano says he killed only for his family and friends - including gangsters James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi - and "always felt like I was doing the right thing."

In an interview with "60 Minutes" set to air Sunday night, the 67-year-old killer describes his life of crime, his loyalty to Bulger and Flemmi, and how it was the "worst day in my life" when he discovered a decade ago that the pair were longtime FBI informants who had been snitching on their friends for decades.

"If I could have killed [Bulger], I would have killed him, but he wasn't there," Martorano told "60 Minutes," according to a press release containing snippets of the interview that was issued yesterday by the CBS news show. Bulger was warned by his handler, former FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr., to flee just before his January 1995 federal racketeering indictment and remains a fugitive. Flemmi is serving a life sentence for killing 10 people.

Martorano cut a deal with federal prosecutors in 1998 that allowed him to become a free man last March after serving 12 years and two months for killing 20 people. As part of the agreement, he agreed to cooperate against Bulger, who has been the subject of an international manhunt since 1995, Flemmi, and their corrupt FBI handlers.

"I never informed or ratted on nobody," said Martorano, telling "60 Minutes" that he risked his life to become a government witness against just Bulger, Flemmi, and their handlers. Martorano says he had the courage to take the stand against Bulger and Flemmi while they were secretly "ratting" on their friends.

Martorano rejected an offer to join the federal witness protection program and has been living in the Boston area since his release from prison last year.

Martorano's brother, James, said in a telephone interview yesterday that the former hit man is retired and living a quiet life.

"Nobody has anything to fear from him," James Martorano said, adding that he doubts his brother has anything to fear from others, because his cooperation helped expose Bulger, Flemmi, and rogue agents.

Under his agreement with state and federal prosecutors, John Martorano pleaded guilty to killing 10 people in the Boston area in the 1970s on behalf of Bulger's gang, as well as racketeering, extortion, and money laundering. He also admitted killing eight people in the 1960s, but was never charged with those slayings. He also pleaded guilty to killing Tulsa businessman Roger Wheeler in Oklahoma 1981 and the related slaying of Boston financier John Callahan in Florida the following year. He said Bulger and Flemmi enlisted him to kill Wheeler and Callahan.

"I mean, you could never pay me to kill anybody . . . I never enjoyed it," Martorano said in the interview. "I don't enjoy risking my life, but if the cause was right, I would."

Martorano's testimony in Boston helped lead to the 2002 racketeering conviction of Connolly, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for leaking information to Bulger and Flemmi and warning Bulger to flee to avoid prosecution on racketeering charges.

Martorano is slated to testify again against Connolly in March, when the disgraced former agent goes on trial in Miami on charges that he allegedly plotted with Bulger, Flemmi, and Martorano to kill Callahan.

In earlier testimony in federal court in Boston, Martorano said he never met Connolly, but that Bulger and Flemmi told him the agent had been leaking information to them for years and warned them that they should kill Callahan because he was being sought for questioning by the FBI and would probably implicate them in the slaying of Wheeler.

Martorano said Bulger told him that Connolly said, "We're all going to go to jail for the rest of our lives if this guy doesn't get killed."

One of Connolly's lawyers, E. Peter Mullane of Cambridge, said Connolly had nothing to do with Callahan's slaying and denies ever telling Bulger or Flemmi that they should kill Callahan.

"I think he's trying to promote a book and or movie and he is embellishing the importance of his role as a government witness," said Mullane, accusing Martorano of lying about Connolly. "The lies are getting bigger and more self-serving."

When asked by "60 Minutes" reporter Steve Kroft if he regretted any of the murders, Martorano says, "You can't change the past. I am trying to do the best I can with the future and explain it as best I can. I regret it all, but I can't change it."

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