‘Whitey’ Bulger jury pool is whittled down to 70; judge ponders defense request for delay

FILE - This June 3, 2013 file courtroom sketch depicts James "Whitey" Bulger, center, during a pretrial conference before U.S. District Judge Denise Casper, left rear, in a federal courtroom in Boston. Bulger is flanked by his attorneys Henry Brennan, left, and J.W. Carney Jr., standing at right. Carney on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 argued that jurors should be allowed to hear statements that government prosecutors made about a star witness against Bulger, including that he's "a sick individual" and not credible. (AP Photo/Jane Flavell Collins, File)
An artist’s rendering of a pretrial hearing in Bulger’s case last week. Now that jurors are being selected, he is wearing street clothes, rather than his Plymouth County jail jumpsuit, so the jury won’t be biased against him.
Jane Flavell Collins/AP

The pool of potential jurors for the much-anticipated federal trial of notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was narrowed today from hundreds to just 70 people.

This 2011 United States Marshals Service mug shot shows former oganized crime figure, suspect James "Whitey Bulger. The long-awaited trial of Bulger is set to begin on June 4, 2013 with the task of finding 18 impartial jurors in a pool of 675, an extraordinary number to choose from that reflects the first challenge of the complex case. Bulger was arrested outside an apartment on June 22, 2011 in Santa Monica, California. Arrested with him was his longtime girlfriend Catherine Greig, he was 81 years old at the time of his arrest. Greig pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor a fugitive, identity fraud and conspiracy to commit identity fraud, and was sentenced in June 2012 to eight years in prison. Bulger has not sought bail and remains in custody at the Plymouth County House of Correction in Plymouth, Massachusetts. AFP PHOTO / US MARSHALS SERVICE == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE / MANDATORY CREDIT: "AFP PHOTO / US MARSHALS SERVICE / NO MARKETING / NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS / DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS == HO/AFP/Getty Images
James “Whitey” Bulger’s mug shot, taken after his 2011 arrest in Santa Monica, Calif., where he was living with his long-time girlfriend and a cache of money and guns.
AFP/Getty Images

Those who survived the cut will return to court Tuesday, where the group will be whittled down even further. The goal is to ultimately pick a panel of 12 jurors and six alternates.

Those who are still candidates for the jury include a psychiatrist, a college professor, a high school teacher, and a bank worker.

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Those excused from jury service offered a variety of reasons, most having to do with health problems or work obligations, some of them colorful. One was scheduled to go to a wedding, another had booked a vacation, and one had a dog that had lost its legs and needed her care. Others excused included a woman who worked for a criminal defense attorney, and an assistant district attorney.

Bulger is facing a 32-count federal indictment alleging that he, among other things, participated in 19 murders. Now 83, Bulger was allegedly a fearsome presence in Boston’s underworld for decades before becoming a fugitive who eluded the FBI for 16 years until his capture in 2011. Bulger, whose criminal career allegedly got a boost from his status as a protected FBI informant, is being held without bail after pleading not guilty to all charges.

In other court action today, the prosecution and defense jousted over defense claims that a former Bulger henchman, John Martorano, who is one of the key prosecution witnesses, had returned to a life of crime and been protected by a state trooper from an investigation.

“The only thing that this can be called is a coverup,” defense attorney J.W. Carney Jr. said. He said the “blockbuster” information was relevant to Martorano’s credibility as a witness.

But a federal prosecutor shot back that no crimes had been committed and there was no coverup.

“Mr. Carney will stand up and say anything for a headline,” said Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak. “That’s fantasy. It’s just fiction. It did not happen.”

Carney sought a delay in the trial’s opening statements, which had been tentatively slated for Wednesday, to Monday, saying he wanted to investigate the allegations against the trooper.

US District Judge Denise J. Casper took the matter under advisement.

The search for the Bulger jurors has been the largest such search in the US District Court’s history. Some 800 people were asked to fill out questionnaires in the first step. A subset of that group was interviewed by both parties and the judge today in the court procedure known as voir dire.

Bulger, who has insisted he was not an FBI informant, appeared in court wearing a hunter green shirt, jeans and glasses.

This morning, Casper ruled that Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr can cover the trial. She had ruled last week that veteran Globe journalists Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy could cover it. All three were on Bulger’s defense witness list and Bulger’s attorneys had sought to have them excluded from the courtroom.

The story of Bulger, who allegedly rose to become a crime boss with the help of corrupt FBI agents at the same time that his brother, William M. Bulger, ascended in the political world to become president of the state Senate and president of the University of Massachusetts has inspired numerous books, TV shows, and movies.

Follow Boston Globe coverage of the trial on the boston.com live blog.