By Jill Harmacinski
---- — As a kid growing up on Center Street in Dorchester, Michael Coyne knew who James “Whitey” Bulger and many of his associates were.
“Most people knew they were to be feared and not to be quarreled with. We all knew not to make him part of our life,” Coyne said.
Decades and a law degree later, Coyne’s personal and professional lives have collided. The associate dean of Massachusetts School of Law in Andover, Coyne, 57, spent the last eight weeks at John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in South Boston watching and weighing in on Bulger’s long-awaited federal trial.
“I’ve enjoyed it. It combines all my worlds into one,” said Coyne, 57, who now lives in North Andover.
On Monday, Coyne watched as Bulger was convicted of racketeering and conspiracy by a Boston jury that found he committed 11 murders and a raft of other crimes as an iron-fisted crime boss.
Bulger, a mobster and alleged FBI informant, was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., on June 22, 2011, after fleeing Boston in 1994 after an indictment on charges that included 19 killings during the 1970s and ’80s was handed down.
At the trial, Coyne’s primary role was as legal analyst for New England Cable News, but his observations and opinions also were being sought throughout the trial by CNN, NBC News, USA Today and the Christian Science Monitor. Coyne has even done on-air interviews with the likes of the American bureau of Al Jazeera, a Middle Eastern news network.
Bulger’s accused crimes, which run the gamut from money laundering, drug running and murders, have long captivated Boston and New England. But Coyne understands the international appeal of the 83-year-old mobster’s story.
“Everyone loves a good murder mystery and government corruption story,” Coyne said before the verdict was handed down. “It’s an extraordinarily colorful trial, an interesting trial with more colorful characters than any movie.
“The notion we could still have such a notorious figure, even in his 80s, intrigues people,” said Coyne, a Suffolk University Law School graduate.
He pointed to USA Today, which has referred to Bulger as a “Robin Hood-like creature” that came to the aid of widows and orphans living in the South Boston area. Bulger has also been portrayed as a thug “who only robbed from those who could afford to pay him,” Coyne said.
But Coyne said two months of “extraordinary” trial have revealed the “systematic and brutal” slayings that occurred under Bulger’s reign. When convicted murderer John Martorano, one of Bulger’s soldiers, took the stand, Coyne said, “I know I saw Satan himself.”
“Satan was in the room,” Coyne said. “He answered every question coldly and matter of factly.”
Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, another close Bulger associate, was equally, if not more chilling, he said. “He was absolutely the lowest form of life possible,” he said. ‘I didn’t think we could get any lower than that.”
Flemmi’s testimony also underscored his fierce loyalty and love for Bulger. Flemmi admitted “he’d do anything for Whitey,” Coyne said.
While reporters, analysts, family and some members of the public were permitted in the courtroom, no photographs or videotaping is allowed inside federal court. Cameras were stacked outside the court in what was nicknamed “Bulger Beach.” Coyne with dozens of others waited throughout last week as jurors deliberated Bulger’s fate.
Coyne predicted that Bulger would go to jail for the rest of his life — even before the guilty verdict was read on Monday.
“In essence, he’s acknowledged he was a criminal kingpin in South Boston,” Coyne said. “He wants his legend to be, while he was a bad guy, he lived by his own code.”
On his Facebook page, Coyne continually provided insight and observations on Bulger. His legal students are among his followers. He announced last week that Bulger’s defense attorneys, J.W. Carney Jr. and Hank Brennan, would be coming to the law school to give students an exclusive insight to the trial.
“Defending Whitey — An Inside Story” will be their presentation, he said.
“They’ve done a tremendous job defending an almost indefensible client,” Coyne said.
While proud and fortunate to provide commentary, Coyne said he’s also been extremely impressed with the lawyers on both sides of the case. “I’ve been able to see some terrific advocacy at the highest level of our profession. ... This is our system working at its best. Lawyers fighting hard for their respective clients,” he said.
Above all, Coyne said the experience will help him back at Massachusetts School of Law.
“It’s really been an educational experience for me and one that I’m going to share with my students,” he said.