(CBS) - In the third week of James "Whitey" Bulger's racketeering trial, the focus shifted to former FBI Agent John Morris, who admitted taking cash from the reputed mob boss and protecting him from prosecution.
Morris, who was the supervisor of John Connolly, the FBI agent who was Bulger's handler while he allegedly worked as an FBI informant, began testifying Thursday with immunity from prosecution. Connolly was convicted of racketeering and second-degree murder for leaking information to Bulger's gang and prompting them to flee Boston in 1994. Bulger was one of the nation's most wanted fugitives until he was finally captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011.
The allegation that Bulger once worked as an informant sparked heated arguments between prosecutors and Bulger's lawyers throughout the week. While prosecutors insist Bulger provided information on the New England Mafia, rivals to his Winter Hill Gang, Bulger's lawyers deny that he was ever an informant. They say he corrupted agents with cash so they would tip him off to search warrants, wiretaps and indictments.
Morris, who has admitted taking $7,000 in payoffs from Bulger, testified Thursday that he helped protect Bulger and his partner, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, from prosecution in a 1978 race-fixing indictment because of their value as informants on the Italian Mafia. Neither Bulger nor Flemmi were indicted after Morris said he spoke with a prosecutor on the case at the request of ex-FBI agent Connolly.
Morris recalled asking Connolly - who he described as his "best friend - what Bulger and Flemmi wanted from the FBI.
"He said, 'a head start,'" Morris testified Thursday.
He said Bulger and Flemmi wanted to be tipped off if they were about to be arrested so they could get away. Flemmi is expected to testify later in the trial.
Bulger stared intently at Morris as he testified and at one point, he called Morris "a (expletive) liar under his breath, according to prosecutor Brian Kelly, who complained to Judge Denise Casper and asked her to admonish Bulger. The judge instructed Bulger to let his lawyers speak for him.
Bulger's lawyers contend Connolly fabricated many of the reports in Bulger's 700-page informant file to cover up his own wrongdoing and advance his career. On Friday, under questioning from defense lawyers, Morris testified that there was pressure on FBI agents to cultivate informants who could provide information about the Mafia because bringing down the organized crime group was a top priority at the time.
Defense lawyers will continue cross-examining Morris next week.
The 83-year-old Bulger is charged with playing a role in 19 killings during the 1970s and `80s. He has pleaded not guilty. Earlier this week, relatives of those allegedly killed by Bulger and his gang also testified.