In a closely-divided 6-4 decision a Florida appeals court sitting en banc has affirmed the 2008 conviction of John Connolly -- Whitey Bulger's FBI handler -- on second-degree murder for the 1982 slaying of World Jai Alai president John Callahan as reported by David Ovalle for the Miami Herald.
Hitman Johnny Martorano testified at Connolly's trial that he murdered Callahan in a parking garage at Miami International Airport on the directions of Bulger and his enforcer Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi. The pair allegedly learned from Connolly that Callahan might implicate them in the 1981 murder of Tulsa businessman Roger Wheeler who had discovered the Winter Hill gang was skimming from and otherwise infiltrated World Jai Alai. In 2003 Oklahoma authorities arrested former FBI agent and Connolly colleague H. Paul Rico for his alleged role in the Wheeler hit but the 78-year-old died before trial. After leaving the FBI in 1975 Rico took a job as chief of security for World Jai Alai.
Last year in a 2-1 decision a three-member panel of the Florida Appeals Court had reversed Connolly's conviction as reported by Shelley Murphy for The Boston Globe:
The panel found that jurors should not have been allowed to consider a second-degree murder charge against Connolly because there was a four-year statute of limitations for second-degree murder in Florida in 1982, unless the crime was reclassified as a life felony because a gun was used in the slaying.
The court found that because Connolly was not the triggerman in Callahan's slaying, the charge should not have been reclassified and his conviction was fundamentally flawed.
On Wednesday, the appeals court reinstated Connolly's conviction, ruling that the law did not require that Connolly "be the actual shooter" or even be present during the murder or use a firearm he was carrying.
The court found that Connolly's acts, while carrying a FBI-issued firearm during his meeting with Bulger and Flemmi as they plotted Callahan's slaying, "were imminently dangerous and evincing a depraved mind regardless of human life" and caused Callahan's death.
The case now will go to the Florida Supreme Court.
More than 100 former FBI agents believe that Connolly is an innocent man, and in March 2011 petitioned Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special counsel to investigate his prosecution by Florida authorities as then reported by Curt Anderson for The Associated Press: "'I've never seen them go after a gangster like they have John,' said former agent Joseph Pistone, whose infiltration of New York's Bonanno and Colombo crime families as 'Donnie Brasco' in the late 1970s was made into the 1997 film starring Johnny Depp and Al Pacino."