(Reuters) – A Florida prison review panel on Wednesday voted to release on medical grounds a former FBI agent diagnosed with cancer who was serving a 40-year murder sentence for helping Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger carry out a 1982 hit on a businessman.
John Connolly, Bulger’s handler within the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had served nearly 20 years of his sentence following his 2008 second-degree murder conviction in Florida over the death of businessman John Callahan.
The Florida Commission on Offender Review voted 2-1 to release Connolly, 80, after hearing he had cancer and a prognosis of less than one year to live. He must remain confined in an approved residence or hospice.
Bulger, who led the Winter Hill Gang, lived a double life as one of Boston’s most notorious mobsters and as a secret FBI informant before going on the run for 16 years after Connolly tipped him that his arrest was imminent.
Bulger was convicted in 2013 of 11 murders, among other charges, and was serving a life sentence when the 89-year-old was killed in prison in 2018.
Bulger’s trial revealed his corrupt relationship with federal law enforcement officials, who turned a blind eye to the Irish-American gangster’s crimes in exchange for information they could use against the Italian-American Mafia.
Connolly and Bulger both grew up in South Boston. After being assigned to the FBI’s organized crime division in Boston, Connolly recruited Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi in the 1970s to work as informants.
Prosecutors said Connolly warned Bulger and Flemmi that the FBI was seeking to question Callahan, the president of sports betting operation World Jai-Alai, about another mob slaying, prompting them to arrange for a hitman to kill him.
Connolly has long proclaimed his innocence. “John was nowhere near the scene of the crime,” James McDonald, his attorney, told the commission.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Bill Berkrot)