James 'Whitey' Bulger
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BOSTON — Lawyers in the trial of reputed gangster James “Whitey” Bulger are hoping to pick a jury of 18 people from a massive pool called to ensure they can find enough impartial jurors to hear the case of the well-known crime figure.
Jury selection was scheduled to begin today in Bulger’s racketeering trial. The reputed former leader of the Winter Hill Gang is accused of a long list of crimes, including participating in 19 killings. Authorities say he committed the crimes while he was an FBI informant.
Bulger, now 83, was one of the nation’s most wanted fugitives after he fled Boston in 1994. He spent more than 16 years on the run before being captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011.
A pool of 675 potential jurors will spend today and Wednesday filling out questionnaires to be used to screen out people with conflicts. Once the pool is winnowed down, potential jurors will be questioned individually.
U.S. District Judge Denise Casper said Monday that “given the circumstances” of the case, the names of jurors will not be made public until after the jury delivers its verdict. She cited the intense media attention the case has received and the expected 3-month duration of the trial.
The jurors will be referred to by numbers instead of names, a process that has been used in other high-profile cases. Casper said the jurors’ names will eventually be released, but not until up to several days after the verdict.
The judge has said she hopes to complete the selection process Friday, with opening statements from prosecutors and defense attorneys expected on June 10.
Twelve regular jurors and six alternates will be chosen.
On Monday, Casper heard more than a dozen pretrial motions from prosecutors and Bulger’s defense attorneys.
Casper ruled that Bulger’s FBI informant file can be admitted as evidence during the trial. Prosecutors have said the file contains more than 700 pages of documents chronicling Bulger’s role as an informant who provided information on the New England Mafia, his group’s main rival.
Bulger’s lawyers deny that he was an informant but had planned to use his claim that he received immunity from a federal prosecutor as a defense at his trial.
The judge rejected that request in an earlier ruling, finding that any purported immunity agreement was “not a defense to the crimes charged.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly argued Monday that Bulger’s lawyers appeared to be trying to use the immunity defense despite the judge’s ruling. He cited the defense witness list, which includes FBI Director Robert Mueller, former Gov. William Weld and U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns, all of whom worked in the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston during a time when Bulger claims he received immunity from another federal prosecutor in the office.
“It seems clear to us that they are trying to put that evidence before the jury in some fashion,” Kelly said.
J.W. Carney Jr., Bulger’s attorney, said the defense has “other reasons” for calling the men as witnesses, but he did not elaborate.
The government’s witness list includes a collection of notorious gangsters, including Bulger’s former partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, who’s serving a life sentence after pleading guilty in 10 murders. Former hitman John Martorano, who admitted killing 20 people, also is expected to testify.
People who believe their family members were killed by Bulger will be allowed to testify, but they won’t be allowed to describe the emotional impact of losing their loved ones.
Bulger’s defense lawyers had sought to limit testimony from relatives of the 19 people he and his cohorts are accused of killing.
Carney argued that the families should not be allowed to give victim impact statements like those given during sentencing hearings.
Kelly said they would focus only on factual information, including asking the relatives to identify their loved ones in photos taken after they were killed.
“We do not intend to turn it into a sentencing hearing,” Kelly said.