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Judge reconsiders his ruling on damages

Says mothers of slain women may be due payments

By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / November 3, 2009

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In a surprise ruling yesterday, a federal judge said he may have been wrong when he ruled that the mothers of two women who were allegedly slain by longtime FBI informants James “Whitey’’ Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman’’ Flemmi were not entitled to collect damages for loss of emotional support.

US District Judge William G. Young said he will hold a hearing Thursday to hear arguments on whether the mothers of Debra Davis, 26, who was strangled in 1981, and Deborah Hussey, 26, who was strangled in 1985, are entitled to additional damages.

In a two-page order, Young wrote that “the court realized that it may have given inadequate weight to the availability of loss of consortium damages due a parent for the wrongful death of even an emancipated adult son or daughter.’’

Loss of consortium is the loss of companionship, aid, society, and comfort.

Last September, Young, who presided over a nonjury civil trial, found that the government was liable for the slayings of Hussey, Davis, and Louis Litif, 45, a bookmaker who was killed in 1980 because of the FBI’s mishandling of Bulger and Flemmi.

Young ordered the government to pay $350,000 each to the Hussey, Davis, and Litif families because of the conscious pain and suffering of the victims. 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.

However, Young found that even though Olga Davis and Marion Hussey suffered enormous grief, they were not entitled to damages for the loss of their daughters’ companionship and emotional support because the young women were emancipated adults, living on their own when they were slain.

Lawyers for the women’s families had argued that Massachusetts law allows parents to collect damages for loss of consortium for the wrongful death of an adult son or daughter.

Michael J. Heineman, the Framingham lawyer who represents the Davis family, said he was pleased with the judge’s decision to reconsider his earlier ruling.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to reargue,’’ said Heineman.

Davis’s mother, Olga, died two years ago.

Her sons, who represent her estate, have continued to press the wrongful-death suit against the government.

The wrongful-death suits filed in federal court allege that 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.

Bulger, 80, has been a fugitive since his 1995 federal racketeering indictment and is wanted in 19 murder cases.

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 because he had been tipped that Litif planned to cooperate against him.

Retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. was convicted of murder by a Miami jury last November for leaking information to Bulger and Flemmi that led to the 1982 slaying of a Boston businessman in Florida. Connolly was also convicted of federal racketeering charges in Boston in 2002 for warning Bulger to flee to evade prosecution.