Federal prosecutors ask for criminal background checks of jurors in James ‘Whitey’ Bulger trial

Federal prosecutors asked a judge today to grant them permission to conduct criminal background checks of jurors at the upcoming trial of gangster James “Whitey” Bulger.

FILE - This June 23, 2011 file booking photo provided by the U.S. Marshals Service shows James "Whitey" Bulger. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday, March 14, 2013, that U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns, who was set to preside Bulger�s trial scheduled for June 6, must step down from the case. The court found that his background as a former federal prosecutor could create the appearance of bias. (AP Photo/U.S. Marshals Service, File)
James “Whitey” Bulger is charged with participating in 19 murders.

In their motion, prosecutors noted that in another high-profile federal case in Boston, a federal judge set aside a jury’s verdict recommending the death penalty for convicted carjacker and killer Gary Lee Sampson after it was discovered that a juror failed to disclose information during jury selection.

Bulger’s federal racketeering trial, which includes allegations that he participated in 19 murders, is slated to begin with jury selection June 6 and is expected to run through mid-September.

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“As the court is aware, trial of this matter will likely take several months, consume considerable resources, and have an obvious emotional impact on the victims,” prosecutors wrote in a four-page memorandum to US District Judge Denise Casper, who is presiding over the case. “It is thus important to take steps necessary to address potential appellate issues in the first instance.”

Prosecutors proposed conducting background checks on potential jurors who have passed preliminary screening, but have yet to be seated on the panel.

They said the background checks would ensure that a fair, impartial jury is selected, minimize the possibility of a mistrial, and “provide a basis to determine whether jurors have truthfully answered their questionnaires with respect to an important subject.”

Prosecutors said the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has previously ruled that criminal background checks of jurors by the government in criminal cases are appropriate, even without prior approval by the court.

Bulger, 83, is charged with participating in the murders between 1973 and 1985.