As all of you know, James “Whitey” Bulger’s criminal trial is underway in Boston, MA. And Bulger’s case sounds like it’s out of a movie. To date, Bulger has been charged with 32 counts of racketeering and extortion and has been implicated in 19 murders.
“Whitey,” as Bulger is more popularly known, was a member of the Winter Hill Gang named after a neighborhood in Somerville, Massachusetts. The Winter Hill Gang was comprised of various Irish American gangsters who were notorious in and around Boston from 1965 to 1979. Originally, the group was lead by James McLean. It was only after McLean moved aside that Bulger took over control. In 1979, federal prosecutors indicted twenty-one members of the gang, including Bulger.
Boston folklore paints Whitey as a Robin Hood type bandit. While his crimes put him on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, locals often reported him as being a good man. They said that he was dedicated to protecting the neighborhood and it’s residents.
In the beginning in 1975, Whitey served as an informant for the FBI. In exchange for his service, his organized crimes were largely ignored. It wasn’t until 1997, when the New England media began to explore and expose the criminal actions committed by local, state, and even federal law enforcement in connection to Bulger; that Bulger decided to flee. Tipped off by an FBI member, Bulger left Boston for Santa Monica, CA, where he remained at large until June of 2011.
As the trial proceeds, we have come across its first significant news update. The US District Court Judge assigned to the case, Justice Richard Stearn, has been removed. Bulger’s defense lawyer, J.W. Carney, argued that Justice Stearns should be removed because he was a federal prosecutor in Boston in the 1980s. This was the same time that Bulger was working for the FBI as an informant. Justice Stearns removal from the case is the first big victory for the defense and Whitey.
Carney argued that Justice Stearns would not be able to stay partial and unbiased in the event he was able to referee the case. Bulger will testify, Carney argued, that Jeremia O’Sullivan, a federal prosecutor who worked in the same office as Justice Stearns, was Bulger’s informant. Further, that Bulger received immunity from him.
Until his forced recusal, Justice Stearns twice rejected the defense’s request for him to step down from the case. Stearns stated that he believed he could remain impartial during the trial. The court, however, has since disagreed. They stated, “it is clear that a reasonable person might question the judge’s ability to preserve impartiality through the course of this prosecution and the likely rulings made necessary by the immunity claim.”
U.S. District Judge Denise Casper is now presiding over the trial, which started on Monday, June 3rd. As the former gangster’s trial continues, the city has seen many old mobsters come forward to take the stand. Not only are they confessing to heinous murders that involved their participation under Bulger’s leadership, but they have also given details on the mobster lifestyle. With cutting a deal for themselves in mind, some ex-mobsters have lead police to bodies buried throughout the city of Boston and others have given over their personal journals of the crimes they have committed.
While this script is certainly nowhere near finished, one can’t help but think that perhaps we are observing the real life writing of our next Irish Mafia movie.
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Written by Vishakha P. Patel, 1L New England Law | Boston.