Two years ago, a tan and fit-looking James "Whitey" Bulger was living in Santa Monica with his girlfriend.
On Wednesday the 83-year-old sat in a federal courtroom in the Boston neighborhood he once allegedly ruled and listened as a prosecutor called him a "hands-on killer" who led an organized gang of criminals that caused fear and ran amok in the city.
A federal prosecutor and Bulger's attorney delivered their opening statements to the jury Wednesday, opening what will be a months-long trial that will consist of testimony from various confessed killers and mob members, corrupt law enforcement agents and possibly Bulger himself.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly characterized Bulger as the leader of a violent gang that wasn't afraid to participate in crimes.
"He was no ordinary leader. He did the dirty work himself. He was a hands-on killer," Kelly said.
During his nearly hour-long opening statement, Kelly also talked about Bulger's other alleged crimes and used a chart to break down the dozens of crimes Bulger is accused of to help the jury understand.
Kelly also recounted some of the crimes including one in which Bulger allegedly tried to strangle John McIntyre, a fisherman who tried to smuggle guns from Boston to the IRA in Ireland for Bulger and others. Bulger, afraid that McIntyre would talk to police after his arrest, allegedly used a rope that was too thick, so it didn't kill McIntyre.
"All it did was make him gag. And as he was gagging, Bugler asked him 'You want one in the head' and McIntyre says 'Yes please.' At that point Bugler shoots him in the head," Kelly said of the 1984 murder.
Bulger killing McIntyre because he believed he was talking with authorities was one example of a "grotesque irony," Kelly said, because Bulger "was one of the biggest informants in Boston."
Bulger was arrested in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011 after 16 years on the run. Bulger fled after corrupt FBI agent John Connolly tipped him off just before his indictment for various crimes including racketeering, extortion and 19 murders.
Bulger's lawyer, J. W. Carney Jr., didn't mention the alleged murders in his opening statements.
Instead, he tried early to cast doubt in the jury's mind, spending much of his opening statement on the prosecution's key witnesses, former mob members and confessed killers John Martorano, Stephen Flemmi and Kevin Weeks.
Carney pointed out the deals that the men received in exchange for testifying against Bulger and Connolly.
"The federal government was so desperate to have John Martorano testify in a manner that they wanted against John Connolly and James Bulger that they basically put their hands up in the air and said take anything you want," Carney said. "Given these three individuals, their backgrounds, their character, if that was all you knew would you believe them beyond a reasonable doubt," Carney asked the jurors.
Carney admitted to the jury that Bulger was "involved in criminal activities in Boston" including bookmaking, loansharking and drug dealing. But, he said, Bulger paid the corrupt law enforcement agents in order to protect his business. He was "never, ever" an informant, Carney said.
Being an informant is something Carney has denied on Bulger's behalf since the early stages of the trial. Yesterday, Carney explained to the jury that Bulger could not be an informant because of his Irish heritage - it was the worst thing he could do, Carney said - and because he was not closely tied to the Italian mafia, which is what he said the FBI wanted information on.
Carney also suggested that rather than being tipped off by Connolly before his indictment, Bulger was driving back from a vacation when he heard on the radio that federal authorities were rounding up alleged mob members and so Bulger turned around.
But instead of being a fugitive for 16 years, Carney said Bulger "settled in California" where he lived in plain sight while the FBI agented "pretended to look for him."
After opening statements, the government called its first witness to testify.
Robert Long is a retired Massachusetts State Police investigator.
Long discussed setting up surveillance in an apartment across the street for a downtown Boston auto shop where Bulger, Flemmi and others met with members of the Italian mafia. Long discussed black and white surveillance photographs and videos he and others took of Bulger at the meetings.
After the proceedings, Steve Davis, whose sister Debra was killed in 1981, said he was unimpressed with Carney's opening statement.
"Carney tells fairytales and stories," said Davis.
When asked if he was optimistic after the first day, Davis said "It's going to be a tough fight, but we'll get there."
The trial resumes Thursday at 9 a.m.
For updates visit www.metro.us for our live blog from inside the federal courthouse and follow Michael Naughton on Twitter @metrobosmike.