BOSTON — The trial of James "Whitey" Bulger turned Tuesday into the inquisition of Stephen Flemmi.
Flemmi, known as "the Rifleman" and serving life in prison for murder, was the prosecution's star witness, recounting how Bulger, his former friend and partner in crime, had committed at least half a dozen murders himself. But during a brutal cross-examination Tuesday, Bulger's defense lawyer turned the tables and put the spotlight on Flemmi, seeking to strip him of any value he might have had as a witness.
He tripped up Flemmi on various details of their murderous ventures. The witness became confused about whether Bulger had used his hands or a rope when he supposedly choked Flemmi's girlfriend's daughter, Deborah Hussey, to death. He was similarly uncertain whether Bulger had strangled another girlfriend, Debra Davis, upstairs or downstairs. He said he was in a state of anxiety in both cases and could not remember exactly what happened.
And most vividly, the defense lawyer, Hank Brennan, portrayed Flemmi as a man who had sex with a young woman, Deborah Hussey, while he was living with her mother, Marion Hussey. Books about Bulger have said that Flemmi sexually molested Deborah Hussey from her early teens onward, but in court, Flemmi said she was 17 (he was 39) when they began a relationship that he said was consensual.
Clearly feeling that he was the one on trial, Flemmi occasionally tried to drag Bulger, who has been implicated in 19 murders, back into the picture and hurled some accusations of his own. At one point, when Brennan accused him of being a pedophile, Flemmi blurted out that Bulger "had a young girl, 16 years old," whom he had taken to Mexico "in violation of the Mann Act," which prohibits interstate transport of women for immoral purposes.
"If you want to talk about pedophilia, look at that man right there at that table," Flemmi declared, indicating Bulger.
Bulger, who has hissed obscenities at other witnesses, including Flemmi last week, kept his mouth shut and his head down Tuesday as he scribbled on a yellow legal pad.
It was one of the most riveting days of testimony in the trial.