Prosecutors in Florida will be arguing Thursday for a court to reinstate disgraced FBI Agent John Connolly’s second degree murder conviction.
Connolly, a Southie native and Boston College graduate, is alleged to have been on the payroll of longtime Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger. Connolly’s relationship with the Winter Hill Gang kingpin marks one of the darkest chapters in the FBI’s history.
Connolly was indicted in 2005 and sentenced to 40 years for his role in the gangland-style Miami murder of gambling executive John Callahan in 1982.
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But last spring, a three-judge panel of Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal overturned Connolly’s conviction. Connolly’s attorney had argued that since Connolly was not present at the murder and since the murder weapon was not his the conviction should be thrown out. In its decision, the court said the statute of limitations on the crime had run out.
Prosecutors appealed, and the case is now before the full 3rd District Court of Appeal, meaning 10 judges will review the matter. Both sides will present oral arguments to the full panel Thursday.
“He’s cautiously optimistic because the law is on his side,” said Connolly’s attorney, James E. McDonald on Wednesday.
McDonald said the law is very clear, for Connolly to be convicted of the murder rap, the murderer would have to have used Connolly’s gun. That wasn’t the case, said McDonald, and Connolly was nowhere near Callahan when he was killed.
Prosecutors say Bulger met with associates, including Connolly, to discuss killing Callahan over the sale of World Jai Alai, a sports betting operation. Callahan sold the firm to Oklahoma businessman Roger Wheeler, who was shot to death in 1981.
Winter Hill associate Stephen Flemmi, according to Boston.com, has said that Connolly told him and Bulger that Callahan could implicate them in the Wheeler murder and was a “weak link.”
During court testimony in 2012, John Martarano, one of Bulger's Winter Hill Gang associates, admitted to fatally shooting Callahan.
A spokesman for the state attorney’s office declined to comment on Wednesday, other than to say prosecutors will be making their case to the full 10-judge panel. Connolly is not expected to be in the court.
Connolly has been lobbying the Florida Supreme Court for his release from prison while the appeal is heard. Last week, that court told the state attorney and the state’s 3rd District Court of Appeal to respond formally to his petition for release by February 18.