The Whitey Bulger witness who never got to testify

By Jim Armstrong

(CBS News) BOSTON - Closing arguments are Monday in the trial of Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger. One of the more dramatic developments in the trial was the sudden death of a potential key witness, Stephen Rakes, the day after he learned he wasn't going to testify. And we learned more about that death Friday in a twist worthy of a movie.

Stephen Rakes was originally going to testify against Whitey Bulger; he was later found dead of cyanide poisoning. Officials believe it had nothing to do with Bulger.
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Stephen Rakes was the owner of a south Boston Liquor store back in 1984 when Whitey Bulger and his associate, Stephen Flemmi, paid him a visit.

In an interview last year, Rakes said both were looking for a legitimate business to front their illegal activities.

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"Flemmi put the gun on the table," he said, "and then they picked up one of my children and said, 'You know it would be a sin to see this child grow up without a father.' It was a bad day."

Rakes claimed he was forced to sell his store at gunpoint and take a huge financial loss. When Bulger was finally captured, Rakes couldn't wait for the chance to face him in court.

"My liquor store was never for sale, never, never, never," he said outside of court.

"Stephen was there every day," said Kevin Cullen, who has been covering the trial for the Boston Globe. Stephen is one of the sort of classic ordinary people that were extorted by the Bulger organization."

Cullen added: "Steve was talking about how excited he was. He couldn't wait to get up there and point to Whitey Bulger: 'That's the man who extorted me, that's the man who threatened the life of my family, that's the man who put a gun near my child.'"

Just before he thought he was going to testify, prosecutors decided their case against Bulger was strong enough without Rakes.

"Steve Rakes was told that he would not be testifying," said Cullen. "And that really bothered him."

The next day, Rakes missed trial for the first time. A jogger found his dead body in the woods of a Boston suburb -- his wallet missing. Almost all of Boston assumed a connection to Bulger.

On Friday, in a bizarre twist, officials announced they now believe Rakes' murder had nothing at all to do with Bulger. One of Rakes' business associates, 69-year-old William Camuti, apparently owed him so much money, he decided to kill him with cyanide. Camuti pleaded not guilty.

"We allege this defendant Mr. Camuti intentionally put poison in the victim's iced coffee, drove around for several hours with Mr. Rakes in his car, and then dumped Mr. Rakes' body in a remote location," said Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan.

In a mob trial already full of surprises, this one is almost beyond belief. Rakes' tragic story ended the same day Whitey Bulger's defense team rested its case.

Members of the jury -- if they've been following the judge's instructions -- don't know about any of this has happened. They're scheduled to begin deliberating on Tuesday morning.

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