Judge rules government liable for slayings by Bulger, Flemmi

Victims’ families awarded $1.85m

Debra Davis was 26 when she was strangled in 1981. Debra Davis was 26 when she was strangled in 1981.
By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / October 1, 2009

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A federal judge ruled yesterday that the government is liable for the killings of two young women and a man allegedly slain by longtime FBI informants James “Whitey’’ Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman’’ Flemmi, but awarded limited damages to the women’s families.

US District Judge William G. Young ordered the government to pay $350,000 to the families of each of the three victims, because of the conscious pain and suffering endured by Debra Davis, 26, who was strangled in 1981; Deborah Hussey, 26, strangled in 1985; and Louis Litif, 45, who was stabbed and shot in 1980.

The judge awarded an additional $800,000 to Litif’s widow and two children, who were 15 and 20 when he died, for the loss of his financial and emotional support.

But he found that even though the mothers of Davis and Hussey suffered enormous grief, they were not entitled to damages for the loss of their daughters’ companionship, comfort, and emotional support because the women were adults living on their own when they were slain.

In the two-page order, Young said briefs filed by both sides following a bench trial last summer on the wrongful death suits had not changed his mind about a tentative ruling he made in July, finding the government liable for the slayings because of the FBI’s mishandling of Bulger and Flemmi.

“The court will issue a full opinion making all findings of fact and rulings of law in due course,’’ he wrote yesterday.

Framingham attorney Michael J. Heineman, who represents the Davises, said the judge’s decision was significant because “this is a finding that the FBI has liability for many of the things they did in protecting Bulger and Flemmi over all these years when they knew they were out killing people.’’

However, he said he may appeal the finding that the estate of Davis’s late mother, Olga, is not entitled to damages for the mother’s loss of her daughter.

A lawyer for the Litifs declined to comment.

Charles Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said government officials have not decided “as to how we’ll ultimately respond.’’

Reached by phone in Florida, Hussey’s father, Thomas, said he was happy the government was found liable because “the FBI is definitely responsible for this.’’

The families contended the FBI was responsible for the slayings because the bureau created a dangerous condition by failing to control Bulger and Flemmi and by protecting them from prosecution.

Justice Department officials said the FBI had no obligation to control the gangsters and did not know they planned to kill the victims.

Retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. was convicted by a Miami jury last November of murder for leaking information to Bulger and Flemmi that led to the 1982 slaying of a Boston businessman in Florida.

Bulger, 80, has been a fugitive since his 1995 federal racketeering indictment and is wanted on charges in 19 slayings.

Flemmi, 75, who is serving a life sentence for 10 murders, testified during the civil trial that he lured Davis, his girlfriend of nine years, to a vacant South Boston house and watched Bulger strangle her. Flemmi testified that Bulger also strangled Hussey, the daughter of Flemmi’s former longtime girlfriend Marion Hussey.

No one has been charged with Litif’s murder, but Young said he believed that Bulger killed him. The judge said he believed disbarred lawyer Kevin Curry was credible when he testified that Litif, a South Boston bookmaker, was killed shortly after Curry told Connolly that Litif planned to cooperate with authorities against Bulger.