Notorious gangster James “Whitey” Bulger said today he would not take the stand at his racketeering and murder trial in US District Court in Boston, telling the judge that he felt the trial was a sham.
Bulger, who is accused of 19 murders during his terrifying reign in Boston’s underworld, told US District Court Judge Denise J. Casper that he wanted to testify, but because Casper would not allow him to claim that he was granted immunity by now-deceased federal prosecutor Jeremiah O’Sullivan, Bulger saw no reason to do so.
“I feel that I’ve been choked off from having an opportunity to give an adequate defense and explain about my conversation and agreement with Jeremiah O’Sullivan,’’ Bulger told Casper. “For my protection of his life, in return, he promised to give me immunity.’’
Casper interrupted him and reminded him that she had ruled that he could not raise the immunity claim during the trial.
“I have considered that legal argument and made a ruling,’’ Casper told him. “I understand, sir, if you disagree with it, OK?’’
Bulger replied that he believed Casper made the wrong decision.
“I do disagree, and that’s the way it is,’’ he said. “And my thing is, as far as I’m concerned, I didn’t get a fair trial, and this is a sham, and do what youse want with me. That’s it. That’s my final word.’’
As Bulger spoke, Patricia Donahue, the widow of Michael Donahue, one of Bulger’s alleged victims, shouted, “You’re a coward!”
Relatives of other alleged Bulger murder victims groaned in disappointment.
Outside the courthouse, defense attorney J. W. Carney Jr. said Bulger made the decision today after huddling with Carney and co-counsel, Henry Brennan. Carney said the final choice was Bulger’s to make; he said his client is at peace with the choice he made.
Bulger’s exchange with Casper took place without the jury present. When the jury was brought back to the courtroom, Carney rose and appeared to surprise some jurors with what he said next: “The defense calls no further witnesses, and we rest at this time.”
Casper told jurors that closing arguments would be delivered Monday and they would be given their legal instructions Tuesday, then begin deliberating. Deliberations will last all day, in contrast to the trial, where testimony ended each day at 1 p.m.
“We’ll see you on Monday,” Casper told jurors.
Bulger’s decision not to testify came despite a public promise from Carney before the trial that the 83-year-old gangster would share his version of events — how he believed he was never an informant for the FBI, and how he was told by prosecutor O’Sullivan that he could commit crimes with impunity.
Judge Casper ruled in May that Bulger could not claim to the jury that he had immunity. Federal prosecutors have called the claim “fantastical” and absurd.
It was an anticlimactic end to testimony in a high-profile trial that has so far consumed 35 days and included testimony from 72 witnesses, including some former close Bulger cronies who had cut deals with prosecutors in return for testifying against the one-time leader of the Winter Hill Gang.
During the trial, US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office presented a mountain of evidence, beginning in mid-June, about Bulger’s criminal exploits in the 1970s and 1980s when he allegedly committed murders, extorted drug dealers and bookmakers, and became a wealthy man by selling drugs in his South Boston neighborhood.
The trial is nearing its end without an appearance in the gallery of Bulger’s brother, William, the former president of the Massachusetts Senate and president of the UMass system. Today two of William Bulger’s adult children were in the courtroom.
The Bulger sibling in court the most was the youngest brother, John “Jackie” Bulger, the former juvenile court clerk-magistrate who helped create fake identification cards for his brother while he was on the run. John Bulger pleaded guilty in 2003 to lying to federal grand juries.
Bulger’s decision not to testify frustrated relatives of some of the people he is accused of murdering, especially the widow and sons of Donahue, an innocent Dorchester truck driver murdered in 1982 by Bulger with the help of another man.
The other killer’s identity has officially remained a mystery, although some have suggested it was Patrick Nee. The Donahues wanted Bulger questioned about who the man was.
One issue the jury will now address is what to do with the $822,000 in cash found inside the walls of the California apartment where Bulger was arrested in 2011, along with his long-time girlfriend, Catherine Greig.
Federal prosecutors have moved to seize the cash. Today Bulger’s lawyers made an unexpected offer: Bulger would drop his claim to the money, provided it goes to relatives of Donahue and Brian Halloran, the intended target of the attack that also killed Donahue.
According to trial testimony, Bulger had been tipped that Halloran was cooperating with the FBI against him; Donahue was an innocent who offered to give Halloran a ride home.
Both families sued the FBI for its corrupt relationship with Bulger, but the federal courts threw out the cases on grounds they were filed beyond the statute of limitations, an argument aggressively pushed by the Justice Department.
Bulger faces a sweeping federal racketeering indictment that, in addition to the 19 murders, charges him with extortion, money laundering, and possession of illegal weapons. Prosecutors have portrayed him as a long-time, prized FBI informant who killed several people after being warned by a corrupt FBI agent that they were cooperating against him.
His notoriety grew when he eluded a worldwide manhunt for 16 years before his capture in seaside Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011. Revelations of FBI corruption and his brother William’s parallel rise in the political world stoked further interest in the case and inspired numerous books, TV shows, and movies.
Also this afternoon, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan announced that Stephen Rakes, a Bulger foe who wanted to testify against him but died mysteriously in mid-July after learning he would not get to, had been the victim of a homicide. Ryan said William Camuti, 69, of Sudbury had been charged with attempted murder and other crimes for allegedly poisoning Rakes with cyanide over a “business transaction.”
Ryan said an investigation indicated Rakes had acted alone and revealed no connection to the Bulger case. Camuti is to be arraigned this afternoon in Concord District Court.
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