By Stephanie Simon
BOSTON (Reuters) - Retired FBI agent John Morris made an emotional apology in court on Monday to the families of those named by prosecutors as victims of accused mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger, saying he had indirectly tipped off Bulger's gang that one of the victims was cooperating with federal authorities.
"I don't want to ask for your forgiveness, but I do want to express my sincere apology for things that I may have done and things that I didn't do," Morris said, his face reddening and his eyes tearing.
"Not a day in my life has gone by that I haven't thought about this. Not a day in my life has gone by that I haven't prayed … that God give you blessing and comfort for the pain that you have suffered. I am truly sorry."
Morris acknowledged that fellow FBI agents had let him know that Edward Brian "Balloonhead" Halloran was informing on the underworld and under consideration for witness protection.
A short time later, Morris provided that information to fellow agent John Connolly, who had cultivated Bulger as an informant. Morris and Connolly both took money and gifts from Bulger and provided him with tips about FBI investigations.
Defense attorney Henry Brennan asked Morris about how he had decided to turn over the secret about Halloran's work with the government to the underworld.
"I didn't make a decision," Morris said. "Somehow it happened."
"You didn't do it in your sleep, did you?" Brennan asked.
"No," Morris said.
A few moments later Brennan asked: "You knew … you were signing Mr. Halloran's death warrant?"
"No, I thought he was going to be safe," Morris said.
Halloran and a friend, Michael Donahue, were killed in a spray of bullets as they drove out of a restaurant parking lot in May 1982. Prosecutors contend that Bulger carried out that hit.
Donahue's widow and sons sat in court on Monday as Morris spoke directly to them. "I do not ask your forgiveness," he told them. "That's too much. But I do acknowledge it publicly."
Bulger, 83, is on trial for killing or ordering the murders of 19 people during a long run at the helm of the Winter Hill Gang, which authorities say ran bloody extortion and gambling rackets in Boston during the 1970s and '80s.
He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, though his defense attorney acknowledged in opening statements that Bulger ran an "unbelievably lucrative criminal enterprise" that included drug dealing.
During an aggressive cross-examination, Brennan aimed to discredit Morris by leading him through a long litany of his corrupt acts during his tenure at the FBI, including taking money and gifts from informants, obstructing justice, tipping off organized crime about FBI investigations, carrying on a long affair with his secretary and lying to cover up those actions.
"You were being deceitful?" Brennan asked.
"Yes, I was," Morris answered.
Morris and his close friend and FBI colleague, Connolly, compiled much of Bulger's 700-page FBI informant file. The defense team contends that Bulger was never an informant and that many of the reports attributed to him were falsified.
Morris has acknowledged signing off on several FBI reports relating to Bulger that he knew were inaccurate or misleading. But on Monday, under examination by the prosecution, Morris insisted that he never fabricated information to attribute to Bulger.
"Do you have any question in your mind that Mr. Bulger was an informant for the FBI?" prosecutor Fred Wyshak asked.
"No, sir," Morris replied.
Morris, who was granted immunity for his testimony about FBI misconduct in 1998, now works as a part-time wine consultant and continues to receive a government pension. Connolly is serving a 40-year prison term for murder and racketeering.
Bulger was prominent on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list of fugitives but evaded capture for 16 years before authorities tracked him down in Santa Monica, California, in 2011.
(Reporting by Stephanie Simon; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Douglas Royalty)