The G-man and the Snitch

Decorated FBI agent John Connolly soon goes on trial for murder in Miami. Too bad he wasn't here when the shots were fired.


One of the former agent's three lawyers in the Florida case is James McDonald, a neat, gray-haired guy who occupies a corner office on the 41st floor of the Wachovia Financial Center on South Biscayne Boulevard. Decorated with family photos and sailing memorabilia, McDonald's office has one of the best views in Miami: he can see the port, Key Biscayne, and the Atlantic Ocean from his desk.

McDonald, who is 62 years old and works for Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, was once special counsel to former Florida Gov. Ruben Askew, as well as a former Assistant U.S. Attorney. These days he is primarily a civil attorney. But he knows Connolly from way back; the two were rookie FBI agents in San Francisco together.

McDonald says he hadn't seen or heard from Connolly in some 30-odd years when a mutual friend, Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, told him the former FBI agent was in trouble.

"People I know and respect said John had been hosed," comments McDonald, who has taken Connolly's case pro bono. He is convinced the former agent is innocent of all charges, especially the murder.

Connolly, he contends, is a "straight arrow."

"This is a guy who says his rosary every night," he explains. McDonald tells the story of how Connolly, while in federal lockup in Kentucky, solved a murder. Another inmate — a convicted drug dealer and gang leader — told the former G-man how he had killed someone eight years earlier. Connolly prepared memos and sent them to his lawyers. "Once an FBI agent, always an FBI agent," McDonald says. Soon the eight-year-old unsolved case was reopened. So far no charges have been filed.

McDonald questions how Connolly could have done his job without cozying up to Whitey and Flemmi. "If this government of ours ever gets serious about capturing Osama bin Laden, how do you think they're going to get close to him? They're going to use informants," the lawyer comments. "And those informants, well, we are going to be dealing with terrorists, people who have probably killed Americans. You don't catch criminals by sending out a bunch of altar boys."

McDonald doesn't know why the government is unfairly targeting Connolly. But he has some theories. He believes that Fred Wyshak, the federal prosecutor in Boston, is overzealous, and that he convinced Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle to file the murder charge. "It serves a lot of people's careers to say John's a corrupt agent," McDonald states. "I've seen the power of government and what it can do."

One problem in trying the case: More than 200,000 documents relating to Connolly have been sealed by federal judges in Massachusetts and in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

The reasons for the sealing, at least in state court, are unclear. Local prosecutors asked for it, citing an agreement with the feds in Boston. Judge Areces refuses to say why.

Even when the Congressional House Committee on Government Reform held hearings on FBI corruption and organized crime in 2003, D.C. lawmakers were unable to obtain some files. Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and President George Bush cited executive privilege for not releasing the files. The Attorney General ultimately allowed committee clerks to look at — but not copy — the files.

"I get very nervous when I see the government asserting itself the way it does," McDonald says.

Connolly's trial date has been pushed back to October — which gives his lawyers more time to scrutinize allegedly new evidence that could exonerate him in Miami and win him a new federal trial in Boston. Flemmi, McDonald claims, lied. A Website called justiceforjohn.com has even sprung up. It includes some depositions that lawyers say the government didn't make public during the federal trial.

One witness's cooperation "was secured through the means of certain unlawful coercion, intimidation, and duress, including the threat that the prosecutors would make sure that he would ödie in prison' if he did not cooperate against John Connolly," according to testimony from "Cadillac Frank" Salemme, whom John Connolly had jailed long ago.

Flemmi likely wasn't threatened. But he lied nonetheless. During a 2005 deposition, six days before the Florida indictment, The Rifleman was asked whether Connolly "directly or indirectly" asked him to kill anyone.

No, he replied. He went on to say that he and Whitey never talked about their murders with the agent.

And Martorano, who confessed to pulling the trigger on Callahan, never said Connolly was involved in the slaying.

Connolly's trial will boil down to this: Will a jury believe the testimony of three admitted murderers: Martorano, Flemmi, and Weeks?

Lawyers on both sides agree it is one of the most unusual murder cases to be tried in Miami. After all, the man on trial never met the victim, wasn't in the state when the murder occurred, and didn't pull the trigger. Whether he is culpable for Callahan's murder is anyone's guess. Connolly's story doesn't unfold or end as neatly as the Southie-inspired movie, The Departed.

The two people who know the truth, not the Hollywood version, are Connolly and Whitey Bulger. Connolly refused to be interviewed for this story. And Whitey is still on the run. At age 78, he's on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, alongside Osama bin Laden.

"I don't think he'll ever be caught," Weeks says. "He's too smart."

Just last month, a man in San Diego called police after he supposedly spotted Whitey. He was in a movie theater, watching a screening of The Departed.

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