Frederick Weichel has spent 32 years in prison proclaiming his innocence, as the state’s highest court rejected his claims that notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger helped frame him for a 1980 murder.
Now, a new team of lawyers, assisted by the New England Innocence Project, say they have uncovered evidence that proves Weichel was wrongfully convicted of gunning down Robert LaMonica outside the victim’s Braintree apartment. They are urging the court to order a new trial.
“I think Bulger had a role in making sure Weichel took a fall,” said attorney Michael D. Ricciuti, a partner in the Boston law firm K&L Gates, which is representing Weichel free of charge. “We’re not saying that Fred was a choirboy. We’re saying he didn’t commit this murder. . . . This goes back to simple justice.”
Ricciuti said a federal prosecutor recently disclosed that Bulger’s partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, confirmed Bulger warned a corrupt FBI agent who could have provided an alibi for Weichel at the time of the slaying not to get involved in the case.
Flemmi’s claim supports affidavits filed years ago by two other former Bulger associates — Kevin Weeks and Patrick Nee — who allege Bulger urged the agent, John Connolly Jr., not to tell authorities that he saw Weichel in a Boston bar some 15 minutes before LaMonica was shot to death miles away in Braintree.
In addition, according to Ricciuti,Braintree police turned over a document in 2010 — never shared with Weichel’s defense during his 1981 trial — that suggested another man had been identified as a possible suspect in the slaying.
David Traub, a spokesman for the Norfolk district attorney’s office, said prosecutors received Weichel’s motion for a new trial, the third one he has filed, and the Norfolk Superior Court has given them until Nov. 25 to file a response.
“The materials are being reviewed and compared to the large body of existing evidence given at trial and during hearings on the previous unsuccessful motions for new trial,” Traub said in a statement.
LaMonica’s 86-year-old mother, Marie, said she was convinced that Weichel, now 61, killed her son and that an accomplice remains free.
“This is just another thing to cause a lot of trouble,” she said Wednesday in a brief telephone interview. “He’s guilty as sin.”
A teenager who heard the shots fired at 25-year-old
LaMonica and saw a man flee and jump into a waiting car helped police create a composite sketch of the suspect. When shown a photo array, the teenager picked a mugshot of Weichel, of South Boston, as “a pretty good likeness.”
Later, while driving around South Boston with police and LaMonica’s two brothers, the teenager identified Weichel on a street corner. Weichel was convicted the following year and sentenced to life in prison.
Ricciuti, however, said that while reviewing Braintree police reports made available after a public records request last year, he learned that police had received a tip from an informant in 1980 identifying the composite sketch of LaMonica’s killer as Rocco Balliro. He had been released from prison on furlough the day before the slaying and fled for months.
At the time, police showed the composite sketch to some 10 corrections officers, who all concluded it looked like Balliro, according to the police reports. Balliro died last year.
Ricciuti said police were required to share the documents with Weichel’s lawyer.
In 2004, Weichel was granted a new trial on the basis of a 1982 handwritten letter purportedly written to Weichel’s mother by a former friend, Thomas Barrett, of South Boston, confessing that he had killed LaMonica.
Weichel said Bulger and Flemmi had visited him repeatedly and threatened to kill him or his family if he implicated Barrett in the slaying, and so he told his mother to keep quiet about the letter. It did not surface until after her death.
The state Supreme Judicial Court reversed the ruling in 2006, writing that “the evils and wrongdoing of Bulger and Flemmi are not legally relevant” and that Weichel had made a calculated decision not to release the letter earlier and it was not new evidence.
In February, Assistant US
Attorney Brian T. Kelly, sent a letter to Ricciuti saying Flemmi “has no memory of ever being present at any meeting” where Bulger threatened Weichel or told him not to bring up Barrett’s name in connection with LaMonica’s slaying.
However, Kelly wrote that Flemmi recently indicated he was present when Bulger told their FBI handler, Connolly, “don’t get involved” in Weichel’s murder case.
The admission supports affidavits filed by Bulger associates Nee and Weeks, who say Connolly saw Weichel at The Exchange, a bar on Milk Street in Boston, shortly before
LaMonica was killed. Weichel said he left The Exchange just after midnight, then went to Triple O’s, a South Boston bar frequented by Bulger, at about 12:15 am. — the same time LaMonica was slain.
Weeks testified at Weichel’s 1981 trial that he saw Weichel at Triple O’s.
Weeks and Flemmi were key witnesses for the government against Bulger, who was convicted in August of participating in 11 murders while running a sprawling criminal enterprise. During the trial, a former drug dealer who worked for Bulger testified that Weichel helped him extort rent payments from marijuana dealers in the late 1970s.