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Keating urges Congress to pay kin

By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / October 13, 2011

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US Representative William R. Keating is urging Congress to pay $8.5 million to the families of two men who were allegedly killed by James “Whitey’’ Bulger after an FBI agent warned the gangster that one of them was cooperating against him.

The Quincy Democrat said he filed two bills late Tuesday seeking compensation for the families of Michael Donahue and Edward “Brian’’ Halloran because they failed to get justice in federal court. A judge found the government liable for the 1982 slayings because of the FBI’s corrupt relationship with Bulger, but a divided federal appeals court reversed the ruling on the grounds that the families waited too long to file their suits. And last week, the appeals court denied the families a hearing before the entire court.

“I just thought justice wasn’t being served,’’ Keating said in a telephone interview yesterday. “I know if it was my family, I wouldn’t feel comfortable sleeping at night until every possible avenue was pursued.’’

Donahue’s son, Tom, 32, said he wants Congress to know “my father was an innocent man in all this and so far in all these [court] proceedings an innocent man’s death doesn’t seem to count for nothing.’’

New Hampshire lawyer William E. Christie, who represents Halloran’s widow, said the FBI was quick to pay a $2 million reward to the woman in Iceland whose tip led to Bulger’s capture in June, yet the government “fights tooth and nail the judgment that was awarded to families that have actually been harmed by their conduct.’’

The bills were filed under a rarely used provision that allows the government to compensate those who have exhausted all remedies in court.

US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, a Democrat from South Boston, said last week that he too would support legislation to compensate the Halloran and Donahue families.

Bulger, 82, is awaiting trial on federal racketeering charges that include allegations he killed 19 people, including Halloran and Michael Donahue.

Donahue, a 32-year-old Dorchester truck driver, was giving Halloran, a 41-year-old Bulger associate, a ride home from a bar on Boston’s waterfront on May 11, 1982, when Bulger and an unidentified associate allegedly opened fire, killing them.

Bulger’s longtime sidekick and fellow informant, Stephen “The Rifleman’’ Flemmi, testified during court proceedings that former FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. warned him and Bulger that Halloran was cooperating with the FBI and had implicated the gangsters in an earlierslaying. Flemmi said the tip prompted Bulger to kill Halloran and that Donahue was just an innocent bystander.

In 2009, a federal judge ordered the government to pay $6.4 million to the wife and three sons of Donahue and $2 million to Halloran’s widow. In February, the US First Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to overturn the award, saying the FBI’s conduct was “reprehensible’’ but the families were required to file their claims within two years of learning the government may have been liable for the deaths. The Halloran estate filed the claim in September 2000, and Donahue’s estate in March 2001. The appeals court said the families should have known they had a case in September 1998, based on intense news coverage of court hearings exposing Bulger’s relationship with the FBI.

Last week the appeals court denied the families’ request for a hearing before the entire court. The court said it had no jurisdiction to hear the lawsuits because they were filed too late, but suggested Congress could provide relief.

Boston attorney Edward Hinchey, who represents the Donahues, said he will not appeal to the Supreme Court and Congress is the family’s only hope for compensation.

Donahue’s widow, Patricia, said that she is grateful for the support from Keating and Lynch, but added that she is afraid to get her hopes up after years of frustrating litigation.

“I’ll have to wait and see how this roller coaster goes,’’ she said. “If it were to go our way, I think it would definitely restore my faith, at least in parts of the government.’’

Shelley Murphy can be reached at