BOSTON (Reuters) - With his reign as the former leader of Boston’s notorious Irish-American Winter Hill Gang already fodder for books and movies, some wonder if James “Whitey” Bulger can get a fair trial in his home town -- or even if the case will ever come to trial.
Bulger’s provisional attorney, for one, doesn’t think the infamous mob boss can get a fair shake. But legal experts say finding an unbiased jury should not be impossible.
“It will be as close to impossible for Mr. Bulger to get a fair trial on these charges,” Peter Krupp said in a court document filed late on Monday.
Bulger, 81, was apprehended last week after 16 years on the run. He had been sought by authorities for 19 counts of murder committed in the 1970s and 1980s, many of them brutal slayings, and charges of drug dealing, extortion, money laundering and conspiracy.
After his capture at a seaside apartment in Santa Monica, California, Bulger was returned to Massachusetts and appeared in federal court on Friday, just blocks from his old South Boston neighborhood.
The jury pool has “surely been tainted,” because of saturation media coverage and the mystique around Bulger and his alleged crimes over the decades, Krupp said.
Other court filings show Bulger himself questions whether a fair trial is possible.
In addition to several books, the Bulger story inspired Martin Scorsese’s 2006 Oscar-winning film “The Departed,” in which Jack Nicholson portrayed a character based on the mob boss.
While it may be difficult to ferret out the biases among potential jurors should the case go to trial, it’s not impossible, experts say.
“Fair trials don’t mean perfect trials,” said Boston University law professor David Rossman.
Trial expertise and lots of time are among the must-haves for a potential Bulger defense team.
“You would need someone with significant experience in high publicity, high pressure trials with high stakes,” said Jack McDevitt, associate dean in the school of criminology and criminal justice at Northeastern University.
McDevitt expected some type of plea deal would be a more likely scenario for Bulger’s long-time girlfriend, Catherine Greig, than for the aging gangster.
Jack Levin, a sociologist at Northeastern, however, doubted the case will ever make it to trial.
Each murder allegation is a “case in itself, which will have to be separately investigated and defended, and will include investigation of informants and cooperating witnesses who have every incentive to lie and to finger Mr. Bulger as the wrongdoer,” Krupp said in the filing.
At his initial court hearing, Bulger said he could not afford an attorney because the government seized his assets.
Authorities found more than $800,000 in cash inside Bulger’s seaside hideout along with a cache of guns, other weapons, and fake IDs.
The cost to mount a defense on his behalf means paying a team of attorneys, paralegals and investigators that could work for years, Krupp wrote.
Reporting by Lauren Keiper; Editing by Ros Krasny