BOSTON (Reuters) - Jury selection begins on Tuesday in the murder trial of James “Whitey” Bulger, whose notoriety as Boston’s reputedly top gangster in the 1970s and 1980s followed by 16 years on the run, is expected to draw crowds of spectators to the courtroom.
Bulger, 83, is accused of committing or ordering 19 murders while running Boston’s “Winter Hill” crime gang. In a trial that is expected to last about four months, District Judge Denise Casper has allotted four days to select a jury.
Bulger, who spent most of his 16 years in hiding on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list, has pleaded not guilty to all charges, which also include racketeering and extortion. He was captured in California in June 2011.
The first two days of jury selection, when hundreds of potential jurors will be evaluated, will be closed to the public over the objections of Bulger’s lawyers. They argued that his right to a public trial would be violated by keeping the process closed to the public. The selection process will be held in open court starting on Thursday.
Federal prosecutors have objected to some of the best-known names on the list of witnesses Bulger’s lawyers planned to call to testify, including FBI Director Robert Mueller, former Massachusetts Governor William Weld and U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns.
They argued that these witnesses would have no relevant testimony to make other than on Bulger’s claim that he could not be prosecuted because he had been granted immunity by a now-deceased federal prosecutor, a claim the judge has rejected, saying such a deal would not be valid.
Stearns had initially been assigned to hear Bulger’s case but was withdrawn by a federal appeals court in March because he worked in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston during the years when prosecutors were developing a case against Bulger.
Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Grant McCool