A prisoner who has spent more than two years in solitary confinement since being accused of murdering mob boss James ‘Whitey’ Bulger has insisted he is innocent and begged to be allowed back into the general population.
Sean McKinnon, 35, speaking for the first time, insisted he ‘knows nothing’ about who killed the infamous Boston mob boss turned FBI informant less than 12 hours after being transferred to Hazelton federal prison in West Virginia.
Bugler, 89, who was convicted of the murders of at least 11 people, was brutally beaten to death in October 2018 with a padlock hidden inside a sock.
McKinnon, one of four inmates put in ‘the hole’ following the killing and who remains there despite no charges being filed in the case, told NBC News: ‘I told the feds, ”If I had something to tell them, I would. I know nothing. I’m an innocent man.”
He is now sharing a cell with Boston gangster Paul DeCologero, 46, who was also accused of the killing, but they are separated from the general population and denied privileges, meaning they are still considered to be in solitary.
A third suspect, notorious mob hitman Fotios ‘Freddy’ Geas, 54, is being isolated in a separate unit, while a fourth, Felix Wilson, was released after six months when his sentence came to an end. All men deny involvement with Bulger’s death.
Sean McKinnon, 35, speaking for the first time, insisted he ‘knows nothing’ about who killed James ‘Whitey’ Bulger
Bugler, 89, was brutally beaten to death in his cell at Hazelton federal prison, West Virginia, with a padlock hidden inside a sock.
McKinnon, who has no known mob ties but is serving an eight-year prison sentence for stealing guns, had been sharing a cell with Geas at the time of Bulger’s death. Meanwhile, Wilson had spent the previous night in Bulger’s cell.
Speaking over the phone, McKinnon claimed corrections officers never explained why they were taking him to ‘the hole’ – a prison term for solitary.
‘Ever since then, it’s been the same thing,’ he said.
McKinnon filed an official grievance with warden Rich Hudgins in January, demanding evidence for why he was being punished. However, the warden, Hudgins refused his request, citing an ‘ongoing investigation’.
Staffers speaking to NBC News on condition of anonymity questioned why no charges had been brought after more than two years, and said security cameras should have captured video of Bulger’s assailants.
McKinnon, who is due to be released next July, said he was interviewed by FBI agents a day after the killing but has not heard from the bureau since then.
He was kept in solitary by himself for a year but is now sharing a cell with his friend DeCologero, who is set to be released in June 2026 after a 25-year sentence for racketeering and witness tampering.
The use of solitary confinement in US prisons has come under scrutiny in recent years and attracted criticism from civil rights campaigners.
David Fathi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project, said: ‘Under international human rights law, solitary confinement lasting longer than 15 days is categorically prohibited, so 2 1/2 years is really beyond the pale.’
McKinnon is now sharing a cell with Boston gangster Paul DeCologero, 46, (left) who was also accused of the killing. A third suspect, notorious mob hitman Fotios ‘Freddy’ Geas, 54, (right) is being isolated in a separate unit
Bulger (pictured in 2011) hadn’t even been processed at Hazelton when he was killed, sources said
Bulger was a leading figure in Boston’s underworld before he was finally captured in Santa Monica with girlfriend Catherine Greig in June 2011 after being on the run for 16 years.
Details of his capture and subsequent death in jail are laid bare in a recent book, Hunting Whitey: The Inside Story of the Capture & Killing of America’s Most Wanted Crime Boss, by Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge.
It revealed how Bulger remained defiant even as feds armed with multiple automatic weapons closed in on the then 81-year-old in the garage of his apartment complex.
FBI agents were finally able to corner Bulger with the help of Josh Bond, the manager of Princess Eugenia Apartments, where the fugitive had been hiding.
Bulger and Greig had managed to go undetected for years by posing as an elderly couple under the names of Charles and Carol Gasko.
When authorities descended on the apartment building on June 21, Special Agent Scott Garriola had located the couple’s storage locker in the garage before hatching a plan to stage a break-in in hopes of luring him downstairs.
Using a set of bolt cutters, Garriola cut the lock off the storage unit, before instructing Bond to call Bulger and notify him of the supposed robbery.
Bugler’s longtime girlfriend Catherine Grieg, 69, was freed in 2020 after serving a nine-year federal prison sentence for helping him evade capture for 16 years. She spent the last year of her sentence living in home confinement (pictured)
Initially, Bond didn’t get a response, but Greig rang moments later returning his call.
‘Do you want me to call police or meet me down in the garage?’ Bond asked.
‘Then Whitey Bulger himself stepped out of the apartment in his white hat and took the elevator down to the garage,’ the book states.
As he arrived, Bulger was immediately greeted by a swarm of heavily armed men aiming machine guns at him.
In a letter describing the scene included in the book, Bulger admits he noticed something ‘wasn’t right’ after seeing colored pieces of tape on the ground, ‘as if to mark positions like on a stage’.
FBI agents immediately ordered him to get on his knees, but Bulger refused after seeing a small pool of oil on the ground.
‘They were screaming, “We will shoot,” and I responded, “Go ahead . . . I’m not kneeling down in the oil,” Bulger recalled,’ the book states.
‘I told them that there was a clean place to my right and for him to take two steps to the right to that area and then I’d comply’.
Bulger, 89, was transferred to USP Hazelton (pictured in an aerial shot) on a Monday. By Tuesday morning, he was dead
Bulger (pictured in an undated FBI handout photo) had been convicted in 2013 of killing at least 11 people and was serving a life sentence
According to the book, Garriola at that moment feared the arrest would escalate into a deadly standoff or a police chase, if Bulger did not obey.
But Bulger eventually ‘moved two steps to the side’, before finally surrendering.
Bulger, who at the time was one of the FBI’s most-wanted criminals, was sentenced to life in prison for his role in 11 gangland killings.
More than $822,000 and 30 guns were found hidden in the walls of the couple’s rent-controlled apartment.
Greig, 69, was freed in 2020 after serving a nine-year federal prison sentence for helping him evade capture for 16 years.
Greig had joined Bulger on the run back in 1995 shortly after he fled Boston to evade a federal racketeering indictment after he was tipped to his pending arrest.
Prior to going on the run, Bulger had terrorized Boston from the 1970s into the 1990s with a campaign of murder, extortion and drug trafficking.
He had lived a double life as the notorious head of the Irish mob and as a secret FBI informant.
The couple was captured in an apartment where they had been living in Santa Monica, California in 2011 after 16 years on the run.
Greig had joined Bulger on the run back in 1995 shortly after he fled Boston to evade a federal racketeering indictment after he was tipped to his pending arrest. They are pictured in 1998
The couple were found hiding out at Princess Eugenia Apartments in Santa Monica in June 2011
The Boston underworld kingpin and his girlfriend had managed to go undetected for years by posing as an elderly couple under the names of Charles and Carol Gasko prior to their arrest.
Following their capture, Greig was sentenced to eight years in prison for helping her mobster boyfriend evade capture and an additional 21 months for refusing to testify before grand juries.
Bulger, meanwhile, was convicted in 2013 of a slew of crimes, including at least 11 murders, and was sentenced to life behind bars.
They brutally attacked the wheelchair-bound Bulger, beat him with a lock in a sock, tried to gouge out the mobster’s eyes with a shiv and attempted to cut out his tongue.
His body was found wrapped in a sheet 12 hours later by prison officers, who said the gangster was hardly recognizable.
The FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of West Virginia declined NBC’s request to comment.
Whitey Bulger: Life and crimes of a mob kingpin
Sept. 3, 1929: James Bulger is born to Irish immigrant parents living in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. He is the second of six children. His shock of platinum blonde hair earns him the nickname ‘Whitey.’
1956: Whitey Bulger is sentenced to federal prison for bank robbery. After he’s suspected of plotting an escape from one prison, he’s transferred to Alcatraz.
1960: Bulger’s younger brother, William, is elected to the state House of Representatives. John Connolly, a childhood friend from South Boston, works on the campaign.
1965: Bulger is released from prison and returns to Boston. He becomes a top underling to local mobster Howie Winter, boss of the Winter Hill Gang.
1970: William Bulger is elected to the state Senate.
1975: Bulger cuts a deal with Connolly – now a Boston-based FBI agent – to provide information on the Italian Mafia in exchange for protection.
1978: William Bulger becomes president of the state Senate.
1981: Roger Wheeler, owner of World Jai Alai, a gambling enterprise from which Bulger was skimming money, is shot between the eyes in the parking lot of his country club in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Bulger, pictured in 1994, disappeared on the eve of his indictment on racketeering charges in 1995
1982: Bulger and Stephen ‘The Rifleman’ Flemmi gun down a former henchman in broad daylight on a South Boston street to silence him over the Wheeler murder. Connolly files a report with the FBI saying rival gangsters made the hit.
July 1982: Flemmi and Bulger order a hit on John Callahan, the former president of World Jai Alai.
January 1995: Bulger disappears on the eve of his indictment on racketeering charges.
1997: The FBI, under court order, admits that Bulger was a ‘top echelon’ informant launching a federal probe into the agency’s corrupt ties to its mob informants.
June 22, 2011: Bulger is arrested in Santa Monica, CA, with girlfriend Catherine Grieg.
Aug 12, 2013: Bulger is found guilty of a raft of racketeering charges, including his role in 11 murders.
Nov 13 2013: Bulger, aged 84 , is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences plus five years. Before announcing her sentence, the judge tells Bulger that the ‘scope, callousness and depravity of your crimes are almost unfathomable.’ She says they are made ‘all the more heinous because they were all about money.’
Oct. 30, 2018: Bulger is found dead inside USP Hazelton at 8.20am, the day after he was transferred to the federal prison in West Virginia.