News Column

Bulger Won't Testify, Calls Trial 'Sham'

August 2, 2013

James "Whitey" Bulger's long-awaited racketeering trial was cut short Friday when the mob boss complained bitterly that his trial has been "a sham" and he would not take the witness stand in his own defense.

The 83-year old gangster's decision means he will not submit to what could have been days of questions, some from hostile prosecutors, about his corrupt, decades-long relationship with agents he was paying in the FBI's Boston office.

"And my thing is, as far as I'm concerned, I didn't get a fair trial," Bulger said. "And this is a sham. And do what yous want with me. That's it. That's my final word."

Some lawyers involved in the Bulger prosecution quickly accused him of posturing.

Even as he spoke, Tommy Donahue, whose father Bulger allegedly cut down with a burst of machine-gun fire, bellowed from the spectators' gallery, "You're a coward." Groans rose around Donahue, from seats where relatives of other alleged Bulger victims have sat daily since the trial began June 12.

"I need quiet in the gallery," snapped U.S. District Court Judge Denise Casper.

Bulger and his lawyers were wringing all the drama they could from his much-anticipated decision on whether to testify. After Bulger's last defense witness concluded at mid-morning, the lawyers said they needed still more time to confer yet again.

Twenty minutes later, Bulger lawyer J.W. Carney, Jr. told the court: "Your honor, when the jury returns, the defense will rest."

Bulger's angry complaint began when Casper asked if he understood the significance of waiving his right to take the witness stand and personally rebut the 19 murders and far-ranging conspiracies outlined in the government's massive racketeering case.

"Are you making this choice voluntarily and freely," Casper asked.

"I'm making the choice involuntarily because I don't feel -- I feel that I've been choked off from having an opportunity to give an adequate defense," Bulger said.

Bulger, 83, stood as he spoke to Casper. He wore a dark, knit shirt and dark trousers and rested his hands, palms down, on the defense table. He spoke clearly and forcefully and he clearly wasn't worried about hurting anyone's feelings.

He very specifically criticized a pre-trial ruling by Casper that prevented him from basing his defense on his claim that he had a secret agreement with a former senior federal prosecutor, an agreement that he claimed granted him immunity from prosecution for many of the crimes with which he is charged.

Bulger claims the prosecutor was Jeremiah O'Sullivan, chief of the justice department's New England Organized Crime Strike force for much of the 1970s and 80s, the period in which Bulger's indictment is based. For the last decade of his life -- he died in 2009 -- O'Sullivan was increasingly beset by questions about his relationship with Bulger.

In just one instance, detectives from Connecticut and Oklahoma said they believe O'Sullivan intentionally misled them in the early 1980s when they interviewed him about leads linking Bulger to a series of murders in the jai alai industry. Bulger is charged in four jai alai murders in the indictment on which he is being tried.

Bulger complained to Casper that he should have been allowed to "explain about my conversation and agreement with Jeremiah O'Sullivan. For my protection of his life, in return he promised to give me immunity."

At that point, the judge raised her voice to recapture control of the conversation.

"I understand your position sir," Casper said. "And certainly you're aware that I have considered that legal argument and made a ruling."

Bulger did not explain what he did to save O'Sullivan. Carney, speaking at a press conference after court adjourned Friday, said he is prevented by a gag order from discussing Bulger's reference to O'Sullivan and what Bulger could have testified about it.

Another top Boston defense lawyer who represents clients in cases directly related to the Bulger prosecution, called Bulger's O'Sullivan claim "a bizarre fabrication."

Defense lawyer Anthony Cardinale said there is no evidence Bulger saved O'Sullivan's life. What's more, Cardinale said Casper's pretrial ruling permitted Bulger to discuss O'Sullivan and the claimed immunity deal at length, had Bulger decided to testify in his own defense.

"The claim is complete garbage," Cardinale said. "And Bulger is a despicable coward."

Claims by accused criminals of secret immunity deals with strike force chiefs might normally be dismissed out of hand. Not in Bulger's case.

There was evidence presented earlier in his trial and in related cases that he paid a half dozen FBI agents. In one case, Bulger is accused of paying former FBI agent John Connolly a quarter million dollars. In return, Connolly is accused of leaking Bulger information that he used to kill potential witnesses against him.

Connolly claims that Bulger was his informant for more than a decade. Bulger denies ever being an informant and claims Connolly fabricated FBI records that show he was.

Bulger's long time mob partner and one-time co-defendant, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, has testified that both he and Bulger were informants.

Flemmi claimed in the late 1990s that he too had immunity because of his informant arrangement with the FBI. A federal judge initially endorsed Flemmi's immunity defense, but was overturned on appeal.

Two months ago, Carney sounded as if it might be impossible to keep Bulger out of the witness box. Outside court Friday, he would not talk about the evolution of Bulger's decision not to testify.

And within minutes, discussion had begun about what might never be known because of Bulger's decision to remain silent.

"He is going to take a lot of secrets to the grave with him," Tommy Donahue said. "He is the only one who knows how high up in the FBI the corruption goes."

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(c)2013 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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Source: Copyright The Hartford Courant 2013


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