BOSTON (AP) — Jury selection in the trial of James “Whitey” Bulger began Tuesday with a federal judge telling potential jurors they won’t necessarily be excused simply because they’ve read or heard about the reputed crime boss.
U.S. District Judge Denise Casper told the first pool of 225 potential jurors that their exposure to the widespread media coverage Bulger has received does not mean they won’t be picked to sit on the jury.
She said the “critical issue” is if they can put what they’ve read or heard aside and base their finding on what they hear in the courtroom.
Bulger, the reputed former leader of the Winter Hill Gang, is accused of a long list of crimes in a broad racketeering indictment, including participating in 19 killings. Authorities say he committed the crimes while he was an FBI informant.
Now 83, Bulger was one of the nation’s most wanted fugitives after he fled Boston in 1994. He spent more than 16 years on the run before being captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011.
Casper told the first pool of potential jurors that she understands the trial — expected to last three to four months — will be a disruption to their daily lives and may even pose an “extreme hardship” for some people. But she said she will have to balance the needs of jurors with Bulger’s right to get a “cross-section of the community” to sit on the jury.
Bulger was introduced to the jury pool by his attorney, J.W. Carney Jr. “Good morning,” Bulger said to the group. “Good morning,” the group responded.
A second pool of 225 potential jurors will be brought in Tuesday afternoon, then a third pool of 225 on Wednesday morning.
They will spend Tuesday and Wednesday filling out lengthy questionnaires.
Once the pool is winnowed down, potential jurors will be questioned individually, beginning Thursday.
The judge has said she hopes to complete the selection process Friday, with opening statements from prosecutors and defense attorneys expected on June 10.
Twelve regular jurors and six alternates will be chosen.
Casper said Monday that “given the circumstances” of the case, the names of jurors will not be made public until after the jury delivers its verdict. She cited the intense media attention the case has received and the expected 3-month duration of the trial.
The jurors will be referred to by numbers instead of names, a process that has been used in other high-profile cases. Casper said the jurors’ names will eventually be released, but not until up to several days after the verdict.
On Monday, Casper heard more than a dozen pretrial motions from prosecutors and Bulger’s defense attorneys.
Casper ruled that Bulger’s FBI informant file can be admitted as evidence during the trial. Prosecutors have said the file contains more than 700 pages of documents chronicling Bulger’s role as an informant who provided information on the New England Mafia, his group’s main rival.
Bulger’s lawyers deny that he was an informant but had planned to use his claim that he received immunity from a federal prosecutor as a defense at his trial.
The judge rejected that request in an earlier ruling, finding that any purported immunity agreement was “not a defense to the crimes charged.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly argued Monday that Bulger’s lawyers appeared to be trying to use the immunity defense despite the judge’s ruling. He cited the defense witness list, which includes FBI Director Robert Mueller, former Gov. William Weld and U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns, all of whom worked in the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston during a time when Bulger claims he received immunity from another federal prosecutor in the office.
“It seems clear to us that they are trying to put that evidence before the jury in some fashion,” Kelly said.
Carney, Bulger’s attorney, said the defense has “other reasons” for calling the men as witnesses, but he did not elaborate.
The government’s witness list includes a collection of notorious gangsters, including Bulger’s former partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, who’s serving a life sentence after pleading guilty in 10 murders. Former hit man John Martorano, who admitted killing 20 people, also is expected to testify.
People who believe their family members were killed by Bulger will be allowed to testify, but they won’t be allowed to describe the emotional impact of losing their loved ones.
Bulger’s defense lawyers had sought to limit testimony from relatives of the 19 people he and his cohorts are accused of killing. Carney argued that the families should not be allowed to give victim impact statements like those given during sentencing hearings.
Kelly said they would focus only on factual information, including asking the relatives to identify their loved ones in photos taken after they were killed.
“We do not intend to turn it into a sentencing hearing,” he said.