Mickey Featherstone: The Dangerous Hitman Currently Free In Witness Protection

In the criminal underworld, trust is a slippery commodity. One day you're a made man, the next, you're sleeping with the fishes. Or, as was the case with Mickey Featherstone, you find you've been chosen as the fall guy for a power grab within the gang. According to The National Registry of Exonerations, Francis "Mickey" Featherstone was a member of the violent Irish organized crime gang known as the Westies, who sought power in the underworld of New York City's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood from the 1960s to the late '80s. Featherstone had served in the Vietnam War, but was discharged in 1967 after hallucinations landed him in a mental hospital. He came back home and moved his way up in the Westies, making a name for himself as a killer. He was charged with three murders over the years, but was always able to get acquitted after pleading insanity.

In the following decade, the Westies teamed up with the infamous Sicilian Mafia, becoming a militant arm of the Gambino family. Featherstone and the other Westies became known as ruthless killers who enjoyed near complete impunity due to the fear they struck in potential witnesses. After weaseling out of three murder charges, and most likely being responsible for countless others, an internal dispute within the Westies would result in Featherstone finally — and ironically — going to prison for a murder he didn't really commit.

Mickey Featherstone needed protection after ratting out members of his own gang

Mickey's trouble started in 1977 with the murder of a member of the Westies named John Bokun. The man the gang judged responsible for the murder, Michael Holly, skipped town to escape the heat, but returned a few years later. Then in April 1985, he was shot and killed on a New York City street by a man using a silencer. Witnesses described a man who looked a lot like Featherstone. It didn't help his case that the shooter abandoned a car owned by Mickey's place of employment at the time. Featherstone was given 25 years to life for Holly's murder.

Mickey knew he'd been framed, and was able to convince the police to let him prove it. He had his wife Sissy record some conversations with Westie Billy Bokun, brother of John, in which he admitted to killing Holly. He also said he'd been ordered to carry out the murder in a wig, which he believed was meant to make him look like Mickey. Other Westies had indeed cooked up the frame job to eliminate Mickey as a threat to their power in the organization. But the Westies now had an enemy in Featherstone. After his conviction was overturned, he struck a deal with the authorities to inform on his own organization. He has since been living in anonymity in the federal witness protection program.