Greatest Trail Win In Massachusetts History?
Massachusetts is a mere baby when compared to Mesopotamia or even London, but we're old fogies when compared to everywhere else in the country. No other state has more experience working the European Colonial Model, with the possible exception of Virginia.
As the holders of this status, we have had some exceptional legal activity in our time. It goes far back. Our courts had already pressed people to death long before someone had even thought of founding, say, Ohio. We had banished Roger Williams to Rhode Island before there was an actual Rhode Island to banish him to, in case you are wondering how hard we roll.
Yesterday was a landmark day in the legal history of Massachusetts, as we finally convicted a vile criminal who had been running roughshod across Massachusetts for 50 years or so. James "Whitey" Bulger was one of the primary figures in Boston's organized crime machine, and he had a trail of blood following him all over Massachusetts.
The question we shall kick around today is this.... was Whitey the greatest score ever by the Massachusetts criminal justice system?
Someone else, especially someone who has read Law extensively, will be able to expand upon this list. However, I'm going to look for the heavy hitters, and develop- most likely on the fly- a sort of rubric by which to measure the relative effect of the trail on Massachusetts in general.
By this rubric, we shall measure some of the more famous cases in our history against that of the notorious Bulger, and then, after some pondering, decide whether DA Carmen Ortiz should get a park named after her or something.
Whitey Bulger rose to power in the Boston organized crime world, eventually coming to run the Winter Hill Gang. His empire reached all over New England. He was indicted for 19 murders, and that may be half of his total. He was tried for of racketeering, money laundering, extortion, and weapons charges; including his complicity in 19 murders. On August 12, 2013, he was found guilty on 31 counts, including both racketeering charges, and was found to have been involved in 11 murders.
He went beyond Boston, ordering the deaths of men out of state. He went beyond typical mob stuff, actually coming to control a series of corrupt cops and FBI guys. He was also a snitch/rat of the lowest sort, so not even other organized crime figures like the guy. He extorted families, murdered women, brought drugs into Southie, ran rackets, silenced dissenters, and even sleazed his way onto someone's lottery winnings.
I'm pretty sure that more Massachusetts people died at Whitey's hands/orders than Massachusetts people did in Gulf Wars I and II, and we'll even throw in Afghanistan.
Whitey was finally nabbed in California, and brought back to Massachusetts. After all the mayhem that the vile Bulger inflicted on the world, he was finally going to meet his match in the form of a little woman in a skirt.
Carmen Ortiz, the United States attorney for the district of Massachusetts, was standing in the other corner of the legal ring. Ortiz now had to handle business that the Mafia, the FBI, the local Police and even the general citizenry in general was too scared of or too corrupt to touch.
Ortiz is liberal enough that John Kerry and Ted Kennedy recommended her for the vacant DA position in 2009, and Barack Obama nominated her. She's also decent enough that she led the prosecution of corrupt Democrat Sal DiMasi. She is perhaps best-known for leading the prosecution of Aaron Swartz, a hacker who killed himself rather than face Ortiz and the blizzard of charges she was ready to hammer him with. The case briefly drew national attention.
Ortiz got Whitey in the courtroom and buried him under an avalanche of evidence and testimony. Whitey never stood a chance, and went down like a ho. A woman who he would have strangled 20 years before was now smirking with contempt at Whitey as she walked out of the courtroom after handing him his ass on a platter. Carmen even put Whiitey's skank dame in the slammer.
After taking Boston's former Lead Criminal and dumping him in a prison forever, Ortiz will now handle the prosecution of the Boston Bombing suspect, Tsaraev.... uhmm.... you know, that Chechen dude.
Ortiz and her victory over the despicable Bulger erased from the streets the most notorious mass-murderer in Boston's history. Even the bomber brothers only killed a half dozen people or so... that was merely half of the 1970s for Whitey.
Either way, it appears to be onward and upward for the Bay State's reigning Legal Eagle.
Let's check out some high-water marks in our Judging Of Others:
- Our first two will be somewhat ecclesiastical trails waged over church issues. However they did go down in Massachusetts, and the results were powerful and influential, both immediately and long term.
Roger Williams was a preacher who didn't really like the founded-so-some-millionaire-could-ditch-a-wife Church Of England, which was a bad way to be in an English colony. In 1635- long before the First Amendment- he was summoned for the last of a bunch of times to stand before the Massachusetts General Court. He was then convicted of Heresy and Sedition. He was eventually banished from Massachusetts, and founded Providence with some land that he bought from Massasoit.
Anne Hutchinson was also a preacher, and this was a bad way to be for women in this barbaric, patriarchal society. Much like Williams, she got the boot from Massachusetts after a sham trial where one of the men who her preaching ridiculed ended up deciding her fate.
As far as body counts go, these two religious figures don't compare to Whitey. They may have had a greater overall influence on America, as Hutchinson was a women's rights trailblazer and Williams founded a city (and eventually a state)
I'm not sure if I can call this a great trial, other than with a broad definition of "great" that allows for Infamy. These were two cases where freedom of religion and freedom of speech were smashed down, something almost always guaranteed to anger Americans. Williams bounced back well with Providence and eventually his own university, but Hutchinson was attacked and killed by a hostile tribe of aboriginals after her exile from the protection of civilization.
Besides, with regard to the efforts of the General Court.... if one of the two people you convict ends up founding a city and having a University named after him.... you probably won the Battle while losing the War.... even if the other one had the top of her head chopped off by Siwanoy warriors.
In a funny side note, the warrior who killed Hutchinson- a chief named Wampage, who amazingly was aware of Hutchinson's celebrity status- assumed her name after killing her, and actually completed at least one real estate transaction in her name.
- The Salem Witch Hysteria of the 1690s was another case where the courts were brought in to matters of religion, and- as you might expect- people died by the dozens.
What was either religious mania, ergot contamination, or just some bored/mean schoolgirls enjoying a cruel joke on their neighbors erupted into a massacre of the innocents. 24-30 people were hung, pressed, or died in jail while awaiting trial.
Of course, they had good evidence... presented by a bunch of kids- who either self-discovered LSD three centuries before Timothy Leary did or who figured out a way to kill half the village with a few voodoo stories a slave told them- presented hysterical testimony to the highest authorities they could find. And the blood began to spill....
While this may have been our most famous trial (no one will be reading about Bulger's antics in 2313 AD), I can't say that the prosecution really made themselves look anything but insane. They based their cases on spectral evidence, meaning that an alleged ghost or demon sighting was sufficient to get a woman hung. It was probably the lowest moment in Massachusetts history, with the possible exception of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
However, the influence of this trial was profound. Before the trials, we were a people ruled by our religious leaders. Afterwards, there was a spike in secularism and scientific method. The witch trials were "the rock on which the theocracy shattered."
Again, the prosecution wins the battle but loses the war.
Note... the last of the witch convictions were overturned by Governor Jane Swift.
- Rex vs. Preston and Rex vs. Wemms, et al... were the cases where responsibility for the Boston Massacre was determined. Final tally: 2 guilty of manslaughter.
This will challenge Ortiz for several reasons.
One... defense attorney = future US President John Adams
Two... Amazing resemblance to the Zimmerman/Trayvon case.... a black person is slain while in the process of attacking someone who had a gun and was behaving very aggressively. Adams actually invoked a colonial version of the Stand Your Ground defense in court to 75% effectiveness.
Three... Adams described the crowd of victims from his home state as "a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes, and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs [i.e. sailors]"
Four.... while some wood was thrown, the principal weapon used against the soldiers before they fired were snowballs.
Five... penalty for Kent Stating a bunch of unarmed people in the streets? The two soldiers convicted had their thumbs branded, after invoking benefit of clergy to avoid the death sentence.
While the Boston Massacre is listed as one of the main causes of the American Revolution, does it rival Whitey? The Revolution was coming, Massacre or not. That brings it to a body count. The 8 British soldiers and their officer managed to gun down 5 men and injure 6 others. That's like 1.2 people per soldier. Whitey has done that in a night.
- Commonwealth vs Jennisson.... this one essentially ended slavery in Massachusetts, which thereafter was a hotbed of Abolitionism. Jennisson was whipping one of his slaves, Quock Walker. Quock sued Master Jennisson for assault. Jenni countered by saying that Walker was a runaway slave. Walker countered that the Massachusetts constitution prohibited slavery, so, in Massachusetts, he couldn't be a runaway slave. The court ruled for Walker, making the practice of slavery untenable in Massachusetts.
A valuable and far-reaching legal matter.... but no body count at all.
- Commonwealth vs Hunt... legalized trade unions in factory-friendly Massachusetts.
The basic story here was that Andrew Jackson destroyed the Bank Of The United States, the cost of living skyrocketed, and a bootmaker in Boston kicked up a case that ended up in court. Formerly illegal or close to illegal, trade unions were legal after this case. Labor unions led the fight against things like 19 hour work days and making 5 year olds mine coal.
No one died in this one, however... someone bring me Blood!
- The trial of Sacco and Vanzetti.... this one featured the Axis of Evil for 1920... Italian anarchists.
A multiple fatality payroll robbery of a shoe factory led to the arrest of a pair of Italian anarchists. Their railroad trial and execution led to widespread unrest at a time when Anarchy and Communism were very possible end points for the American political machine.
Widely considered to be innocent (a guy in jail for murder confessed to the crime, and an investigation pointed very probably blame for the payroll robbery at the Morelli family in Providence... the leader of that gang looked just like Sacco), the trial and execution of the pair led to worldwide rioting.
Their trial was close to being a joke, with the historic viewpoint being that they were basically guilty of being Italians with anarchist political views. Like the mess in Salem, it is considered to be a low point not just in Massachusetts legal history, but in American legal history.
The pair were essentially pardoned by the Governor... but, unfortunately for them, that Governor was Michael Dukakis, and he did so 50 years after they were killed in the state's electric chair.
As a low point, and with both a low body count and little historical oomph beyond "America can be a tough place to get a fair trial," the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti doesn't match Whitey's trail. In fact, with the bombings around the world (the Wall Street Bombing was a direct result of the verdict against the pair), you can say that the Massachusetts legal system did more harm than good.
- The case of the Boston Strangler redeemed the local legal system somewhat, but even that took almost 50 years.
Albert DeSalvo is credited with 13 murders, although he may have done less (some wide ranges exist between his youngest and oldest victims) or more (once you get a body count going, you can lose track of some of them... or so I'm told) than the final official tally.
DeSalvo confessed to aspects of the murders that only the murderer could know, so- like Whitey, to an extent- his trail was a slam dunk. The legal brilliance in this case was from F. Lee Bailey. Bailey was pretty sure that DeSalvo was dangerously insane, and conducted the trials to get him mental help rather than jail time. "I defended a man accused of robbery and assault by proving that he committed 13 murders," said Bailey. This would spare DeSalvo the electric chair, and allow for him to be studied.
DeSalvo never stood trial for the Strangler murders. He was convicted for other crimes, and sent to Bridgewater State Hospital (someone put the Serial Rapist Prison pretty much right next to the teacher's college with 2500 young girls... remember, this is the state where the Boston Strangler failed to get an Insanity defense... and the state where spectral visions can be used to hang people... and the state where Whitey Bulger's brother was the President of the Senate) and eventually Walpole. At Walpole, someone judged him to be Guilty and handed out a Death sentence.
DNA evidence just recently introduced puts DeSalvo at one of the murders, and starts a domino chain that accounts for at least most of the victims.
DeSalvo had a Whitey-esque body count, and also had a Q rating in his realm rivaled only by Jack The Ripper. However, his trial was a miscarriage of justice... if Albert DeSalvo didn't fit your criteria for an Insanity defense, you need to revise your Insanity defense criteria.
Ironic to this story is the fact that DeSalvo may have been killed by a fellow prisoner who was a member of Whitey's Winter Hill Gang.
- John Salvi sought to defend life by taking it, and gained national fame when he started gunning down abortion clinic workers. He blasted through a pair of Planned Parenthoods in Massachusetts, and was captured after another attack in Virginia.
His trial was also a slam dunk, with some Insanity defense wrangling being the only juicy stuff. He's more famous because his convictions were overturned.
You see... Salvi smothered himself in a plastic bag while in prison, and before his appeals were exhausted. Therefore, by Massachusetts law, his conviction was overturned.
This was probably another won battle/lost war, just on Salvi's part instead of the state's. Salvi may not even have intended to overturn his convictions at the cost of his life.... but he's dead, and technically something less than Guilty.
- Ted Kennedy is another low mark on the Massachusetts legal resume, and is the Cape and Island's most famous case.
Ted drove a car off a bridge after a cocktail party, swam to shore, and left a woman to die while he went home and sobered up. Kennedy, a US Senator from a powerful political family and a brother of a President, got breaks that You or I probably wouldn't have got, and was never tried for the murder of Mary Jo Kopechne.
Kennedy was back voting in the Senate as Kopechne rotted in her grave. The fact that we sent him there is on us, but the fact that he wasn't in jail weighs more heavily on our criminal justice system.
Ted never got his trial that would put him atop this list, but he makes it into the discussion anyhow... which is like calling Mitt Romney "President Romney" even though he got handled by Barry.
- Let's end on a high note.... the case of Goodridge v. Department of Public Health.
This one ruled that the denial of marriage licenses to same-sex couples was unconstitutional. This gave positive legal status to gays, and opened the doors for gay marriage everywhere. Other states have since followed (pant)suit, and Massachusetts can lay claim to having landed the first blows in this fight.
No body count here, other than gays being like the rest of the married people on Earth in that sometimes Spouse A finally can't stand Spouse B any more and makes a body. We can't put that on whoever Goodridge is.
So.... where would you rank Whitey on this list?
Let there be no doubt that Carmen Ortiz, at the head of a huge chain of people that includes the non-corrupt police, America's Most Wanted viewers, and Miss Iceland: 1974, landed a haymaker blow against injustice when she gained all of those convictions on Whitey Bulger.
Bulger killed more people than the Boston Strangler and the Boston Massacre combined, and is a bigger name than Quock Walker or Martha Corey. I doubt that he'll end up in history books like Sacco and Vanzetti, and he most likely won't found Providence at this point. Unless her legal career kicks into high gear quickly, Carmen Ortiz will never match the Star Power exercised in Massachusetts courts by John Adams.
However, she closed the book on a disgraceful chapter of Boston's history, and she should never have to pay for a drink in any Southie bar ever again. She cleaned up their mess. If you some day go to Lawyer Valhalla and find the Massachusetts table, Carmen will most likely be presiding over it, while holding the most notorious scalp.