TODAY   |  July 19, 2013

Witness in Whitey Bulger case found dead

Stephen Rakes, who told police Whitey Bulger came to his house and held him up at gunpoint in front of his infant daughter, was found dead in suburban Lincoln, Mass. TODAY’s Stephanie Gosk reports and MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle comments on this twist in the case.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> first, we'll get to the trial of whitey bulger . this morning there's several new twists in that case. nbc's stephanie gosk has the latest. good morning.

>> reporter: good morning. one of the witnesses against whitety bulger that waited 30 years to tell his story has been found dead and the trial is in the midst of a dramatic confrontation. stephen owns a liquor store during whitey bulger 's hay day.

>> my liquor store was never for sale. he told police that whitey came to his house and in front of rake's infant daughter gave him a choice his store or his life.

>> that night haunts me every day.

>> after waking decades to face him in court he was told he wouldn't be called by prosecutors on tuesday and wednesday according to police he was found dead in suburban lincoln massachusetts.

>> he was on the side of my road. i said he either had a heart attack or something or the heat got him.

>>> an autopsy found no visible signs of trauma. toxicology tests have begun.

>> boston talk radio hosts talked to him days ago and said he wanted to have his say against bulger .

>> he wanted to rub his nose in it and teach him a lesson. it's unfortunate he never got a chance to do that. it would have fulfilled his dream.

>> reporter: meanwhile, thursday a dramatic face-off. bulger and stephen the rifleman flemmi saw each other for the first time in 18 years. flemmi said bulger was a fellow informant for the fbi. flemmi is perhaps the most important witness in the case which features 19 murder charges against bulger .

>> he ties whitey into the two things he doesn't want to be connected to. being an fbi informant , ie, a rat, and number two being a guy that kills women.

>>> flemmi testified about 15 minutes before court lead out today with more to come today. but as he left the stand he swore at bulger and a relative of one of his alleged victims said it was proof this divorce is final.

>>> thank you very much. mike is an msnbc contributor and long time commentator on all kinds of boston events. good morning to you.

>> good morning matt.

>> i was going to say this is the stuff of movies. but they made that movie. it was called the departed. it was based on whitey bulger . what do you make of this trial so far?

>> the trial is incredible. it is actually -- you referenced a movie, it's the culmination of a movie people have been waiting to see for about three decades. parts of this story have been in and out of the news for over 30 years. bulger , his brother bill bulger , the president of the massachusetts senate played a part in the context of the story. the color of the story. and now we have the trial. it is so depraved, the testimony. it is shocking although the reality of it is that a lot of people knew about things that had occurred over the past 30 years.

>> what about this new development, the death of this guy stephen rakes. he was going to testify. he was informed then he wouldn't testify and now he turns up dead. one of our local newspaper screams the headline dead men don't talk. we don't know if this was foul play. is it possible that after all these years whitey bulger can still silence people?

>> that i don't think is possible. i don't think he has anybody left who is willing to help him? something like this. stev steve was found about 20 miles from where he lives. that was a long walk. no car. no i.d. on his body. the toxicology reports won't come back for another two to three weeks so we don't know the cause of death but clearly several people told me that he was clearly dumped there. the body was dumped there. he died somewhere else.

>> why is it so important, we've heard it several times during the trial, mike, why is this issue of whether whitey bulger was an fbi informant something that seems to have so much impact and infuriates him so much?

>> well, he's in denial. he's a sociopath and i would not be surprised if he took the stand in his own defense to give his own version of events as twisted and as horrible as they are. but why, still after all these years are we waiting for the conclusion of this trial? because many people in law enforcement during the 80s and early 90s knew, just knew that whitey bulger was cooperating and an informant for the fbi. there were too many occasions when dea agents and boston police and the state police should show up getting ready to do a drug bust and information they had about when it would occur had been leaked to bulger and his crew. nothing moved in south boston , drugs or anything like that without whitey bulger 's consent.

>> it's a fascinating trial. good to see you. thanks very much.