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The trial for one of the nation’s most wanted fugitives just began in Boston. James “Whitey” Bulger – the alleged Winter Hill Gang leader – eluded law enforcement for decades. According to reports, he fled Boston in 1994 and was captured 17 years later living in Santa Monica, California.
Described as a modern day Robin Hood, Bulger initially achieved prominence in south Boston by helping out his working class neighbors while keeping drug dealers at bay. Some even thought of him as a “near-mythical figure…” While revered by some, others reportedly saw a different side to Bulger – that of a cold-blooded killer. Law enforcement alleges that Bulger was a hardened mob-boss, and is implicated in the murders of 19 people over the course of 30 years.
Bulger is on trial as the result of a 32-count racketeering (RICO) indictment, including his involvement in the 19 murders.
RICO is a federal charge of racketeering, commonly used in organized crime and mob trials. It is broadly defined as the act of operating an illegal business or scheme for profit, perpetrated by a structured group.
Racketeering can involve several different criminal acts such as murder, fraud, illegal gambling, money laundering or prostitution. Often, mob bosses or gang leaders can be found guilty of racketeering charges for crimes they ordered. This means someone may be found guilty of murder even if they weren’t the one who actually committed the act.
Here Bulger’s alleged illegal actions include:
•19 counts of murder
•Conspiracy to commit murder
•Conspiracy to commit extortion
For the prosecution to prove Bulger is guilty of racketeering, the government must convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that Bulger was responsible for at least one of these crimes. If convicted, Bulger could face life imprisonment or even the death penalty.
The prosecution also alleges that Bulger was an FBI informant – a claim that Bulger fervently denies. On Monday, June 24, a federal agent testified that Bulger [Informant 1544] provided details concerning the Mafia, tips in murders and other insider information leading to imprisonment for others.
While the defense strategy will be revealed over the next weeks and months of the trial, it is likely that Bulger’s criminal defense attorneys will attack the credibility of the witnesses testifying against Bulger. If the jurors fail to believe the prosecution’s witnesses, then the government won’t have met its burden to show Bulger’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
One of the star witnesses against Bulger is Johnny Martorano, a man who has confessed to killing 20 people. As the result of a plea agreement, Martorano served only 14 years in jail. In a deal with the government to testify against Bulger, he was released from jail after serving only 12.
Can the jury trust the testimony of a convicted killer? Martorano has clearly benefited from agreeing to testify against Bulger. He [Martorano] has also sold the film rights to his life story, as well as collaborated on a book entitled Hitman. It appears that Martorano has nothing to lose by testifying against Bulger, which weakens his credibility.
In fact, another witness for the prosecution admitted during cross-examination that inmates know they can get “extraordinary benefits” if they agree to testify for the prosecution. As is often the case in mob trials, several of the other witnesses for the prosecution have credibility issues and are linked to criminal activity.
Defending Bulger’s Reputation
The defense is also seeking to lift the current gag order, preventing Bulger’s attorneys from speaking to the media. Bulger’s team wants to be able to fight back in the press and on television, which has primarily portrayed Bulger in a negative light. Too often, the public forms an opinion about a criminal defendant’s guilt or innocence that is hard to shake, even if the defendant is eventually acquitted.
The Bulger trial is expected to last up to three months and will provide a glimpse into alleged mob life in the 1970s and 80s. Bulger has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.
A Guide To The Trial Of James Whitey Bulger, BostonHerald.com June 18, 2013
Whitey Bulger’s 700-page FBI informant file discussed at trial; defense insists he wasn’t an informant, Boston.com June 24, 2013
Ex-FBI Agent to Testify Against Bulger, ABC News.com, June 24, 2013
Whitey Bulger Trial Enters 3rd Week; Here’s What You Need To Know, June 24, 2013 Huffington Post