Former FBI agent John Connolly Jr. wins appeal of Florida murder conviction

Retired FBI agent John Connolly Jr. could be released from prison in Florida after a state appeals court voided his murder conviction.
By Frances Burns  |  May 28, 2014 at 1:35 PM
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MIAMI, May 28 (UPI) -- The much-commended FBI agent brought down by his ties to Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger, won an appeal Wednesday of his Florida murder conviction.

John J. Connolly Jr. was serving a 40-year sentence in Florida for the 1982 murder of John B. Callahan after completing a federal racketeering sentence. Callahan, an accountant, was killed because Bulger and his lieutenants feared he would give investigators information about the 1981 killing in Oklahoma of Roger Wheeler, owner of the World Jai Alai company.

A state appeals court in Miami ruled 2-1 that John J. Connolly Jr.'s conviction was wrongly upgraded after a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder with a firearm. The court said the statute of limitations on second-degree murder at the time of Callahan's killing had expired years before Connolly was charged.

The court ordered Connolly's release from prison. But it granted prosecutors a stay to allow them to appeal.

Prosecutors had argued for the upgrade on the grounds that Connolly carried his service weapon at meetings with Bulger and others.

"Connolly was hundreds of miles away in Boston at the time the discrete act of murder occurred; he may or may not have 'carried' his service weapon at the time of the murder," the court found. "It is beyond question that Connolly's service weapon was neither available for use nor was it used in the murder; it had absolutely no spatial or temporal relationship to the discrete crime charged; it had no purpose related to the crime."

Connolly was born and grew up in Boston, and graduated from Boston College. He joined the FBI in 1968 and was assigned to the Boston office five years later.

As an FBI agent, Connolly developed close ties with Bulger, then boss of the Winter Hill Gang, and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, using them as informants against the Italian Mafia. He received commendations from former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover on for his work.

After Connolly's retirement in 1990, however, the relationship between the FBI's Boston office and Bulger came under scrutiny. Connolly was charged in 2005 with Callahan's killing, with prosecutors saying he warned Bulger and others about the accountant.

Bulger was arrested in 2011 in Santa Monica, Calif., after more than a decade as a fugitive. He is currently serving a life sentence in federal prison.

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