BOSTON (WBZ NewsRadio) — A juror who sat on the trial of James "Whitey" Bulger is now saying that she regrets the decision to convict the infamous Boston mobster of murder.
Janet Uhlar was juror number 12 on the jury that convicted Bulger in his murder and racketeering case in 2013. On Tuesday, she told WBZ NewsRadio's Laurie Kirby that information she's learned since the end of the trial regarding Bulger's participation in a CIA behavior-modification program that tested drugs on unwitting subjects has made her reconsider the conviction.
"Within the trial itself, it wasn’t mentioned that Jim Bulger had been experimented on through what was called the MKUltra project," Uhlar said. "The CIA was experimenting with LSD."
After the trial, Uhlar said, Bulger wrote her more than 70 letters, detailing his claims of having been dosed with LSD more than 50 times while in prison in the 1950s. The infamous mobster claimed to be haunted by his experience during the drug trials, plagued by hallucinations and nightmares.
Uhlar now believes Bulger's MKUltra experience could have played a role in his violent life, changing his personality to make him a killer. Had she known about the program at the time, she said she "absolutely" would have changed her jury vote.
"I would have said there was reasonable doubt in regard to the murder, and I would have stood my ground as far as saying ‘not guilty’ on the murders," she said.
James "Whitey" Bulger. (U.S. Marshalls)
According to a book by Brown University professor Stephen Kinzer, the Associated Press reports, MKUltra was a top-secret CIA program that sought to "develop mind control techniques by giving LSD and other drugs to unsuspecting individuals." At the height of the Cold War, CIA officials were apparently interested in seeing if the drug could be used as a tool in interrogation.
Kinzer said CIA chief chemist Sidney Gottlieb "enlisted doctors and other subcontractors to administer LSD in large doses to prisoners, addicts, and others unlikely to complain,"
The program wasn't made public until the mid-70s, but went on to become the subject of a U.S. Senate hearing in August 1977. Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, then chairman of the Senate Health Subcommittee, was deeply disturbed by the Senate's findings.
"The Central Intelligence Agency drugged American citizens without their knowledge or consent," Sen. Kennedy said in that hearing. "The intelligence community of this Nation, which requires a shroud of secrecy in order to operate, has a very sacred trust from the American people. The CIA's program of human experimentation in the fifties and sixties violated that trust."
Of course, there's no definitive proof that Bulger was part of the program, and there likely won't be any time soon—in the Senate hearing, Sen. Kennedy noted that most of the files associated with the MKUltra program were believed to have been destroyed in 1973.
But in a prison diary revealed by the WBZ-TV I-Team nearly a decade ago, Bulger described his experiences with the program and the psychedelic drug:
In the notebook—undated, but apparently written in the years after he was released from prison—Whitey described “horrible LSD experiences followed by thoughts of suicide and deep depression.” Yet he was determined to keep it all to himself so he would not be “committed for life.”
At one point, Whitey wrote that he developed a “morbid fear of LSD” and felt if he had any more of it, “it would push me over the edge.” He was afraid that “if I mentioned hearing voices” or the “seeming movement of calendar in cell, etc., that I’d be committed for life and never see the outside again.”
Whitey wrote that he felt like his “head changes shape” and the only “antidote is to look in mirror” to make sure his head was still the same.
"I was in prison for committing a crime, and feel they committed a worse crime on me," he wrote in the diary.
A year before he was beaten to death by one or more of his fellow inmates at a West Virginia prison, Bulger wrote an essay for the website OZY.com titled "I Was A Guinea Pig For CIA Drug Experiments."
In it, he claimed he was told as a prisoner in Atlanta in 1957 that he would get time off his sentence for participating in a drug trial that was "researching a cure for schizophrenia." What actually happened, he said, was that he and other prisoners were locked in a basement, given large doses of LSD, and observed:
"In minutes the drug would take over, and about eight or nine men—Dr. Pfeiffer and several men in suits who were not doctors—would give us tests to see how we reacted. Eight convicts in a panic and paranoid state. Total loss of appetite. Hallucinating. The room would change shape. Hours of paranoia and feeling violent. We experienced horrible periods of living nightmares and even blood coming out of the walls. Guys turning to skeletons in front of me. I saw a camera change into the head of a dog. I felt like I was going insane."
Uhler said she researched MKUltra after the trial, reading Kinzer's book and pouring over the Senate hearing.
"It was mentioned in the Senate hearing first that the whole project was to see if they could modify behavior, the CIA," she said. "But there was portion within the hearing where they actually acknowledged that there was a part of the experimentation to see if they could make people aggressive and even homicidal. Jim Bulger had no idea that that was part of what was being done to him."
Her research and correspondence with Bulger may have changed Ulher's mind, but the WBZ-TV article noted that families of Bulger's victims had no sympathy regarding his alleged MKUltra participation.
"I think he’s been a monster since birth," Patricia Donahue, husband of Bulger murder victim Michael Donahue, told WBZ-TV in 2011. "He’s a sociopath and I don’t think you can blame the drugs on that."
Kirby and Uhler also talk about Uhler's allegations of corruption during Bulger's trial, as well as Uhler's thoughts on Bulger's 2018 prison murder being a "set up." You can listen to the entire interview with Uhler below.
WBZ NewsRadio's Laurie Kirby (@LaurieWBZ) reports