Image: John Connolly
Alan Diaz  /  AP file
Former FBI agent John Connolly was convicted of helping the Boston mob murder a gambling executive in 1982.
updated 12/4/2008 3:24:23 PM ET 2008-12-04T20:24:23

Despite his conviction on murder charges, former FBI agent John Connolly angrily insisted Thursday he is innocent of passing sensitive information to Boston mobsters that led to the 1982 slaying in Miami of a former gambling executive.

A Miami judge delayed sentencing Connolly for second-degree murder until at least next month after a day of hearings that included Connolly and the family of World Jai-Alai president John Callahan, who was fatally shot and left in the trunk of his car.

"I never have, and I never would, knowingly say anything that would cause harm to come to any human being," Connolly, 68, told the court. He did not testify at his trial but has long proclaimed his innocence. "I did not commit these crimes. I had nothing to do with it."

Callahan's widow, Mary, and his now-grown children Patrick and Kathleen appeared in court Thursday to describe the pain that lingers from his murder.

"His death was a terrible shock," Mary wrote in a letter read aloud by her son. "He was the love of my life and I miss him every day."

Connolly spoke directly to the  family, calling their loss "heartbreaking" but repeating that he wasn't responsible.

Connolly had been due for sentencing Thursday. But Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stanford Blake postponed the sentence to consider legal motions filed by Connolly's attorneys. He faces up to life in prison but could get far less.

Callahan's death
Several gang figures testified at Connolly's two-month trial that Callahan was fatally shot because Connolly told Boston mobsters that Callahan might implicate them in the earlier murder of an Oklahoma businessman.

Callahan, 45, was shot by a hit man and his body stuffed into the trunk of his silver Cadillac, which was left at Miami International Airport.

Several of Connolly's friends and former FBI colleagues called Connolly a talented, stellar agent who had to make tough decisions regarding gangland informants in order to take down other violent criminal organizations. Connolly said his informants led to dozens of key arrests over his FBI career, which ended in 1990.

"I did my job to the best I could. I dealt with some savage people, and we brought down some people who were even more savage," Connolly said.

Connolly's attorneys sought a lenient sentence — in part because Connolly didn't pull the trigger — but prosecutors pushed hard for the maximum of life. Connolly was convicted in 2002 by a federal jury in a racketeering case and sentenced to 10 years for his corrupt relationships with chieftains of Boston's notorious Winter Hill Gang.

One of those gang leaders was FBI most-wanted fugitive James "Whitey" Bulger, 79, who was secretly an FBI informant along with top gang lieutenant Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi. They provided Connolly with tips leading to major cases against rival Mafia figures, and in return Connolly protected them from prosecution and slipped them inside information.

'Too important of a case'
Blake said he would decide on sentencing after considering last-minute motions by Connolly's attorneys, including whether the statute of limitations has expired for the second-degree murder conviction. Connolly was charged with first-degree murder, but jurors were given the option of a lesser second-degree conviction.

"It's too important of a case," Blake said in explaining his decision to delay to a packed courtroom. A new sentencing date was set for Jan. 15.

At one point, Connolly clashed sharply with Boston federal prosecutor Fred Wyshak — who was part of the Miami prosecution team — over evidence from Flemmi he claimed was improperly excluded from his 2002 corruption trial.

"You left me to rot in a prison for five years when you knew that he exonerated me," Connolly said.

"I did my job, Mr. Connolly," Wyshack shot back.

Testimony showed that Connolly was virtually a member of the Winter Hill Gang, accepting more than $235,000 in payoffs from them over the years. Bulger, who has a $2 million bounty on his head, fled in 1995 after Connolly tipped him about an imminent federal indictment, witnesses said.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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