After 36 days of a trial that included grotesque stories of underworld brutality and betrayal, a jury of eight men and four women began deliberations today in the federal racketeering trial in Boston of FBI informant and crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger, who is accused of participating in 19 murders.
US District Court Judge Denise J. Casper told jurors that it is their duty to determine beyond a reasonable doubt whether Bulger is guilty of each of the dozens of charges he faces. She also told them that they are duty-bound to follow the law as she described it to them.
“Members of the jury, it is now time for the case to be submitted to you,’’ Casper said.
After the 12 jurors filed out of the courtroom at 10:47 a.m. to begin their deliberations, six disappointed-looking alternates remained behind. The judge told them they would not be excused until a verdict is returned in case they are suddenly needed to step in if a juror is excused for any reason.
Casper told them the court would make them comfortable while they wait and told them not to discuss the case, even among themselves.
The families of five of Bulger’s 19 alleged murder victims listened to the judge’s instructions, then filtered out of the courtroom, saying they were afraid to stray too far away because they wanted to be present when the verdict is announced.
Deliberations ended for the day at about 4:30 p.m.
The court released a copy of the form that jurors will use during their deliberations, and then hand to Casper once they have reached verdicts. The options are guilty, not guilty, or deadlocked.
“I feel relaxed, at ease with it, that it’s at the end and we’re here,” said Steve Davis, whose 26-year-old sister Debra Davis was allegedly strangled by Bulger in 1981. “But it’s going to be nail-biting, jaw-crunching stress waiting for them to come back and wondering what they’re going to come back with.”
Bulger has vehemently denied killing Davis, who was the longtime girlfriend of his partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi.
Flemmi testified that Bulger insisted they kill Davis because she was leaving Flemmi for another man and knew the two of them were FBI informants. Flemmi told jurors he watched as Bulger strangled Davis, then he buried her body while Bulger took a nap.
In closing arguments, Bulger’s lawyer, J.W. Carney Jr., said Flemmi killed Davis and was blaming the slaying on Bulger. But Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak told jurors that they didn’t have to decide whether Bulger or Flemmi strangled Davis, and urged them to find Bulger guilty if they believe he simply played a role in the slaying.
“I’m hoping for the best. No matter what happens, I have to accept it,” Steve Davis said.
Patricia Donahue, whose husband, Michael, was allegedly gunned down by Bulger in 1982 while giving a ride to Bulger’s intended target, Brian Halloran, said she was relieved that the trial was nearing an end.
“I think that the prosecution did a great job,” Donahue said. “Carney was very good at getting into corruption by the government, but it was really all about Bulger.”
She said she was confident the jury would convict Bulger.
“I don’t see any reason why that man would not be found guilty of all charges,” she said.
In addition to murder, Bulger faces allegations that he committed extortion, drug distribution, money laundering, and illegal gun possession.
Casper told jurors that the government doesn’t have to prove that Bulger was in the “upper management” of a criminal enterprise to find him guilty of racketeering, only that he played a role in it.
Bulger faces a total of 32 counts in the indictment. One of the counts is a racketeering charge. Under that charge, he is accused of 33 acts as part of a criminal organization. Those acts include the 19 murders. Bulger only has to be found guilty of two of the acts to be convicted of the racketeering charge, which would bring a harsh sentence that would likely keep him in prison for the rest of his life.
Bulger appeared in the Boston courtroom today, wearing a navy blue long-sleeved shirt and jeans. Before Casper started speaking to the jury, he seemed relaxed. Sitting in the spot reserved for his family was his brother, John “Jackie” Bulger, along with a niece.
The deliberations began one day after the panel heard some six hours of closing arguments from Wyshak and defense attorneys Carney and Hank Brennan.
Bulger, 83, is “one of the most vicious, violent criminals ever to walk the streets of Boston,” Wyshak told jurors Monday in a voice that occasionally cracked with emotion during his 3½-hour closing. He ridiculed defense lawyers’ efforts to paint Bulger as a gangster with a code, who barred heroin from his South Boston neighborhood, even as they conceded that Bulger raked in millions of dollars from extortion and from dealing marijuana and cocaine.
“This is not some Robin Hood story about a guy who kept angel dust and heroin out of Southie,” Wyshak said.
But Bulger’s lawyers aggressively attacked the government for cutting lenient plea deals with three former associates who admitted to participating in gruesome and unprovoked murders and blamed Bulger for their crimes.
“I ask you to find strength in the oath you took,” Carney told jurors. “You have the power to stand up to government abuse.”
Bulger who was captured in 2011 in Santa Monica, Calif., after 16 years on the run, is charged with the extortion of bookmakers, drug dealers, and businessmen. He is also charged with money laundering and stockpiling high-powered weapons, including six machine guns. He faces a possible sentence of life in prison in the case.
On Friday, Bulger told Casper that he would not testify, calling the trial a sham.
From Day One, his defense made the tactical decision to concede Bulger was responsible for many of the lesser charges. But his lawyers contended he did not commit several of the murders and spent much of their time trying to prove something that was not part of the indictment: Bulger was not an FBI informant; instead, he paid his handlers for information.
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