Lawyers for former FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. are urging Florida’s highest court to force an appeals court to make a final decision on whether Connolly’s conviction for a 1982 slaying orchestrated by gangster James “Whitey” Bulger should be overturned.
Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals ruled in May that Connolly’s 2008 conviction for the slaying of a Boston businessman decades ago should be overturned on statute of limitations grounds, but the former agent remains behind bars while the court weighs a request by prosecutors for a rehearing.
Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Manuel Alvarez wrote in a petition to the Florida Supreme Court filed earlier this month that there were “no reasonable grounds” to justify a rehearing in Connolly’s case and that the 74-year-old has already spent six years behind bars for a conviction that was reversed five months ago.
“Yet, despite having prevailed on appeal, Mr. Connolly remains incarcerated on a time-barred conviction as this cause languishes, once again, in rehearing limbo,” Alvarez wrote.
However, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, whose office prosecuted Connolly, said prosecutors believe Connolly’s murder conviction should be reinstated and that the appeals court was treating the case “with the seriousness it deserves.”
“They are being very deliberate,” Rundle said. “A just result is much more important than a speedy decision.”
Connolly was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 2009 for his role in the 1982 slaying of John B. Callahan, a Boston businessman who fraternized with members of Bulger’s gang. Connolly grew up in the same South Boston housing development as Bulger and recruited the gangster as an informant in 1975, according to FBI files and testimony.
After an eight-week trial in 2008, a Florida jury found Connolly guilty of second-degree murder with a gun for leaking information to Bulger and his sidekick Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, that prompted the gangsters to order Callahan’s death.
Flemmi testified at the trial that Connolly warned him and Bulger that the FBI was seeking Callahan for questioning and the businessman would probably implicate the gangsters in the 1981 slaying of World Jai Alai owner Roger Wheeler.
It was undisputed that Bulger’s associate John Martorano lured Callahan to Florida and shot him to death, while Connolly was miles away on Cape Cod.
Connolly began serving his sentence for Callahan’s murder after he finished serving a 10-year prison term for an earlier federal racketeering conviction in Boston.