(Warning: This story contains graphic material)
By Richard Valdmanis
BOSTON (Reuters) - A former professional gambler told jurors on Friday how he survived a gunfire attack that decapitated a passenger in his car, as prosecutors sought to pin the murder of 19 victims on reputed mobster James "Whitey" Bulger.
Bulger, who had been on the run for 16 years, faces a life sentence for the murders in a sensational trial that has riveted Boston and attracted large crowds, including Oscar-winning actor Robert Duvall on Friday.
Duvall, who starred in the movie "The Godfather" and is in Boston shooting a film called "The Judge," sat at the back of the courtroom.
"Just thought it was interesting that's all," he said, according to a tweet from Boston Globe reporter Shelley Murphy.
Frank Capizzi, 78, testified he was on his way to see his mother in Boston's North End when a torrent of gunfire struck the car he was in, riddling him with lead and decapitating one of his friends.
"I was hit in the head and could feel warm blood running down my neck," Capizzi said. He reached for a fellow passenger "and my hand went into his neck where his head should have been," he added.
Witnesses, including former Winter Hill Gang member John "The Executioner" Martorano, have sought to link Bulger to the bloody trail of killings that haunted the city for decades and inspired Martin Scorcese's Academy Award-winning 2006 film "The Departed."
Bulger, 83, is charged with killing or ordering the murder of 19 people as head of Boston's Winter Hill crime gang in the 1970s and 1980s. Bulger has pleaded not guilty to all charges. If convicted, he faces the possibility of life in prison.
The trial has transported jurors back to an era when machine-gun-toting gangsters shot each other in phone booths and buried bodies under bridges in a bloody quest for control of the lucrative criminal underworld of drugs dealers and bookies.
Prosecutors on Friday paraded an arsenal of assault weapons through the courtroom that ballistics experts said were seized from Winter Hill Gang members and their associates - ranging from World War Two-era automatic rifles called ‘grease guns' to pocket-size revolvers.
Martorano, who confessed to 20 murders but received a lenient 12-year sentence for testifying against his former partners, said earlier this week he preferred a snub-nosed .38 revolver for late nights at the clubs.
SHOT IN THE BACK
Two family members of alleged victims of the Winter Hill Gang also spoke on Friday, including Joseph Angeli, who said he found out his father was killed on his 14th birthday.
"My mom determined it was too dangerous for us to travel to the funeral," he told the jury, adding his family had suddenly left Boston for California prior to his father's death because "things were dangerous."
Martorano previously testified that he killed Angeli's father, Joseph Notorangeli, in 1974 under orders from Bulger who believed the man had killed a mafia ally.
Testimony from Capizzi, a white-bearded man with dark sunglasses, was some of the most riveting to date in what is expected to be a four-month trial.
Capizzi agreed to testify after he was granted immunity by U.S. District Judge Denise Casper. He has said he suspects the shooters who injured him on March 19, 1973, were from the Winter Hill Gang, though he admitted on Friday under cross examination that there were several other criminal groups operating in Boston's North End at the time.
He said doctors removed 11 bullets from his back during a four-hour operation after the shooting, but left many others in. "I was imbedded," he said.
"I'll be 79 in November, I think," Capizzi said. He noted that he sometimes hears plain English as Sicilian due to a medical condition.
Bulger fled Boston after a 1994 tip from the corrupt FBI agent that arrest was imminent. He evaded arrest for 16 years before law enforcement caught up with him living in hiding in Santa Monica, California on June 22, 2011.
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Richard Chang)