BOSTON (Reuters) - Mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, who was convicted of murdering 11 people during his brutal decades-long rule over Boston’s criminal underground, will face those victims’ families when they address the court at his sentencing hearing this week.
U.S. District Judge Denise Casper has set aside two days for family members of the people who were shot, strangled or killed in other ways by Bulger’s Winter Hill gang in the 1970s and ‘80s to have their say before she sends the 84-year-old Bulger to prison, likely for the rest of his life.
Bulger was convicted in August of 31 of 32 criminal counts from a sprawling indictment that charged him with racketeering, extortion and drug dealing in addition to 19 murders, 11 of which he was found guilty of committing.
His two-month trial brought back memories of the dark days in Boston’s history, when gangsters machine-gunned rivals in broad daylight, violently shook down businessmen and bookies and buried their victims in the dirt-floored basement of a South Boston home.
Federal prosecutors have asked the judge to show ”no mercy“ and impose two consecutive life sentences plus five years on a man they described as ”one of the most violent and despicable criminals in Boston history.
It is not clear if Bulger will take the stand at the sentencing proceedings, which begin Wednesday at the city’s waterfront federal courthouse. He did not testify at his trial, telling the judge “this is a sham and do what you want with me.”
During the trial, families of Bulger’s victims who took the stand, including Margaret King and Patricia Donahue, whose husbands were among the mobster’s victims, were instructed to limit their testimony to the facts of the case.
Prosecutors have not yet said which family members of Bulger’s victims they will call on Wednesday and Thursday, but those who are called will have the opportunity to tell about how the deaths of their loved ones affected their lives.
Family members have spoken out before. When Bulger’s girlfriend, Catherine Greig, was sentenced in June 2012 to eight years in prison for her role in helping Bulger evade arrest for 16 years, members of victims’ families called her a “cold-hearted criminal” and a “bitch.”
Their words were strong enough that U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock apologized to her for the “crude, cruel” statements.
“We’re going to have more of the same and I expect that it would be even more emotional,” said Thomas Peisch, a former federal prosecutor now with the Boston law firm of Conn Kavanaugh. “They’ll point their fingers at him and he’ll sit there shackled in his chair and I expect it will be even more of a spectacle than the last one was.”
While judges may comment on a victim’s statements, they typically allow them to say what they wish at sentencing, said Walter Prince, a former federal prosecutor now with the law firm Prince Lobel Tye.
“Victims has been recognized as having a right to tell a judge about how much of a devastating impact that crime has had on their lives,” Prince said. “She is going to give the witnesses their day in court.”
Bulger’s capture in June 2011 at a seaside apartment in Santa Monica, California, after years on the run, made headlines across the nation. When asked then by police to identify himself, Bulger replied “You know who I am. I‘m Whitey Bulger.”
Editing by Bob Burgdorfer