Whitey Bulger Case Hit Man Was Not a Classic Serial Killer

PHOTO: John Martorano answers questions about his plea agreement in exchange for testifying against former FBI agent John Connolly, in the Miami Courthouse, Sept. 17, 2008, in Miami.
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Confessed hit man John Martorano proclaimed defiantly in a Boston courtroom Tuesday that he is "no serial killer," even though he has admitted to rubbing out 20 people, including innocent bystanders.

The 72-year-old federal witness, known as "the Executioner," testified against his alleged former mob boss, James "Whitey" Bulger, 83, and claimed he was an FBI informant.

Martorano insisted he was no "mass murderer" and preferred to be called a "vigilante" who nobly protected friends and family.

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Martorano rationalized the killings by saying the code he learned was, "family and friends comes first."

But criminologists said that even though Martorano, by his own testimony, is "technically" a serial killer -- one who kills one at a time over weeks, years or decades -- his self-described motivation and execution doesn't fit the mold of a Ted Bundy or a Jeffrey Dahmer.

'Whitey' Bulger and his girlfriend Catherine Greig used dozens of aliases while on the lam.

"A serial killer typically uses sex as a vehicle for tempting to gain a sense of power and dominance and control," said Jack Levin, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University in Boston and a co-author of the 2008 book, "Extreme Killing."

"In most cases, it includes torture," he said. "Martorano was right in court when he suggested that a typical serial killer enjoys his work. The more he makes the victim feel inferior, the more superior he feels. And so he tortures and sodomizes and dismembers and eviscerates and strangles his victim, taking the last breath from his dying body. That's what makes them feel so good."

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Martorano, who has been a free man since 2007 after he cut a deal with the government to testify against Bulger, testified, "I didn't enjoy killing."

Levin said criminologists might agree the term is misused when it comes to gangland killers.

"Those who study serial murder are concerned about overusing the term and that it becomes diluted and loses its value," he said.

He theorized that those in organized crime are more like "domestic terrorists."

"What happens is a mobster terrorizes a community so that he gets shopkeepers and others to comply," said Levin. "He used terror in a way that is politically motivated."

He compared Martorano and his partners in crime to the Washington, D.C., snipers who had the city in "the grip of terror" to make $10 million.

"It's not an end -- it's a means or tactic used by some criminals for personal gain," he said.

Bulger, one of Boston's most notorious alleged criminals in the 1970s and 1980s, purportedly head of the predominantly Irish-American so-called Winter Hill Gang that was portrayed in the Hollywood film, "The Departed," faces a 32-count indictment.

Gangsters like Martorano, and perhaps Bulger, may rationalize murders as "honor among thieves," with a code of rules and behavior. For example, the code prohibits the killing of women, according to testimony in the Bulger trial.

"Is there any honor or integrity in what you did?" Martorano was asked under cross-examination on Tuesday by Henry Brennan, a defense lawyer.

"I thought so," he replied.

Ethics are rarely a motivator, except on television. The serial killer "Dexter" has a lust for killing, according to Levin, but he has a code of ethics -- killing those who have wronged others.

"He's an outlier," said Levin. "But I don't like him for a different reason. He is an antihero and that really bothers me -- someone who kills a large number of people and can easily justify it in an attempt to rid the world of evil."

Some serial killers, like Ted Bundy, target prostitutes, believing they are "doing the world a service."

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