If you lived in South Boston from the late 1970s through the mid-1990s, you either loved or loathed Whitey Bulger.
He could be colorful and generous, or, if you were his enemy, it is said he could be cutthroat and cruel.
In a federal courtroom in Boston on Wednesday, James "Whitey" Bulger, who spent more than 16 years in hiding, finally faced the judicial system.
Charged with murder in the killings of 19 people, Bulger, wearing jeans and a green, long-sleeved T-shirt, listened intently as prosecutors and his lawyers gave opening statements.
With references to Robert Kennedy, La Cosa Nostra and the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland, the trial of Boston's most famous fugitive got under way.
Bulger, 83, who prosecutors said was the head of the Irish mob in Boston for nearly two decades, sat slightly hunched, watching grainy black-and-white surveillance videos of him as he appeared more than 30 years ago, trimmer and only slightly balding. In one of the clips, Bulger punches the air and uses his fingers as guns as he animatedly talks to several mob associates.
Describing Bulger as a "hands-on killer," prosecutor Brian Kelly told the jury Bulger "did the dirty work himself." He described how Bulger ruthlessly shot one mob associate after attempts to strangle him failed because the rope he was using was too thick.
"You want one to the head?" Bulger reportedly said. "Yes, please," the victim was said to have answered.
Describing another killing, Kelly said, "Death came calling in the form of Whitey Bulger," who allegedly lured his victim to a phone booth and then opened fire, along with partner Steve "The Rifleman" Flemmi.
The trial is expected to take up to three months and has the potential to reveal sensational details about the mob and FBI corruption, especially if Bulger chooses to testify.
His attorney, J.W. Carney, portrayed Bulger not as a killer but as the head of a successful criminal enterprise of drug trafficking, extortion and loan sharking that brought in "millions upon millions of dollars." His client would not leave his "comfort zone" to kill someone in another state, as prosecutors allege.
Carney took aim at rogue FBI agents and police who were on "Bulger's payroll," both to protect him and to alert him to impending wiretaps, surveillance efforts and indictments.
The government will try to show that Bulger committed crimes while working as an informant for the FBI, revealing to the feds the mafia's secrets and corrupting them in the process to ignore his crimes.
Bulger never worked as an informant, Carney said, adding that "the worst thing" a person of Irish descent could do would be to inform.
But the defense acknowledged for the first time that Bulger was involved in drug trafficking and that he made millions of dollars from it.
The defense blamed the cooperating witnesses for the killings, saying they are falsely blaming Bulger for their own acts.
Carney urged the jurors to be skeptical about the credibility of the government's planned witnesses.
"Would you believe them beyond a reasonable doubt when you add the unbelievable incentives the government has given them?" he asked.
Bulger rose to the top of the notorious Winter Hill gang, prosecutors say, before he went into hiding for more than 16 years after an FBI agent told him in December 1994 that he was about to be indicted on federal racketeering charges.
But Carney claimed Bulger fled not because he was given the heads up on an impending indictment, but because he heard on the radio that federal agents were rounding up mobsters, an account heard for the first time ever.