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Witness recalls escape from death in Bulger trial

Former mob boss and fugitive James "Whitey" Bulger is seen in a booking mug photo released to Reuters on August 1, 2011. REUTERS/U.S. Marsha
Former mob boss and fugitive James "Whitey" Bulger is seen in a booking mug photo released to Reuters on August 1, 2011. REUTERS/U.S. Marsha

By Richard Valdmanis

BOSTON (Reuters) - (Attention, graphic material) Frank Capizzi 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," the 78-year-old testified on Friday. He said he reached for a fellow passenger "and my hand went into his neck where his head should have been."

Capizzi testified Friday as a witness in the trial of accused mobster James "Whitey" Bulger who is charged with killing or ordering the murder of 19 people as head of Boston's Winter Hill crime gang in the 1970s and '80s.

Other witnesses, including Bulger's former associate John "The Executioner" Martorano, have sought to link Bulger to around a dozen of the killings, including one in which Bulger is accused of gunning down a man in a Boston phone booth for talking too much.

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 machine guns to pocket-size revolvers.

Testimony from Capizzi, who claims he is unsure of his age and sometimes hears plain English as Sicilian due to a medical condition, was some of the most riveting to date in what is expected to be a four-month trial.

Capizzi, who has admitted to living a criminal life, was granted immunity by U.S. District Judge Denise Casper for anything he says in the Bulger trial.

He has said he suspects the shooters who injured him on March 19, 1973, were from the Winter Hill Gang. He said doctors removed 11 bullets from his back during a four-hour operation, but left many others in.

"I was imbedded," he said.

Bulger, now 83, has pleaded not guilty to all charges. If convicted, he faces the possibility of life in prison.

The accused gangster 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.

His story inspired the Academy Award-winning 2006 film "The Departed."

On Friday, Bulger had another brush with Hollywood. Oscar-winning actor Robert Duvall, who is in Boston shooting a film called "The Judge," sat at the back of the courtroom observing the trial.

The trial took a tearful turn on Thursday, with family members testifying about the intended and accidental victims of the Winter Hill Gang. Among them was Nancy Ferrier, who described the call to her house when she was 14 reporting that her father, Al Plummer, had been shot in the face.

"I was home alone with my sister, my mother wasn't at home," Ferrier said, adding that the family was first told her father had survived the attack but later learned he had been pronounced dead on arrival at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Prosecutors are preparing to submit as evidence the 700-page file that the FBI developed on Bulger in the years when the agency claims he served as an informant.

Through his attorney, Bulger denied ever being an informant, insisting that he paid a corrupt FBI agent for information but never provided any of his own.

(Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Douglas Royalty)

(This story was refiled to eliminate extraneous words in headline)

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