Whatever conclusion the jury comes to in the trial of James “Whitey” Bulger, the 83-year-old South Boston crime boss will most likely live the rest of his days in prison.
The jury began deliberating Tuesday morning at the end of the Boston trial that has spanned nearly two months. Bulger, who was arrested in Santa Monica, California in 2011 after spending more than a decade on the FBI‘s “Ten Most Wanted” list, is accused of 19 killings and 13 counts of extortion and money laundering.
Even in the highly unlikely case that he is let off, he is still sought in murders in Oklahoma and Florida.
“He’s never going to be walking the sidewalk,” said Margaret McLean, a former Massachusetts district attorney who is now a law professor at Boston College. McLean said she expects a decision later in the week as the jury examines over 900 exhibits and statements from 72 witnesses.
The defense’s best chances, McLean said, are in having convinced some members of the jury that the prosecution did not prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, precluding a unanimous decision and forcing a “hung jury” that would prolong litigation.
Bulger’s defense has aimed to undermine the prosecution’s case by asserting corruption in the federal authorities and casting doubt on the claims of three convicted gangsters who were granted immunity in exchange for their testimony.
But given overwhelming evidence against Bulger, observers said the trial has become more than a legal case and instead a judgment on the legacy of the Boston mobster. Bulger’s defense has admitted to some of the lesser charges while vigorously opposing accusations that he murdered two women who were not connected to his criminal circle. Bulger has also rejected the prosecution’s claims that he was an informant for the FBI.
“He knows he is spending the rest of his life in prison. This was a reputation, or legacy, defense,” Kevin Cullen, a columnist for the Boston Globe and co-author of “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice,” said in an e-mail from the courtroom.
Bulger surprised some observers when he passed on an opportunity to testify during the trial. Cullen said it was a tactical choice that opens the door to additional appeals. Instead, Cullen said, Bulger will likely speak during the sentencing phase of the trial.
“All that has gone on was just to serve the ego of Whitey Bulger. That has been what so much of his life and criminal enterprise has been from the beginning,” said John Sedgwick, who co-wrote with retired Massachusetts State Police Colonel Thomas Foley the book “Most Wanted: Pursuing Whitey Bulger, the Murderous Mob Chief the FBI Secretly Protected.” “This is a guy that was so bent on a kind of domineering existence…. It was all about glory and power.”
Patricia Donohue, whose husband Michael was allegedly killed by Bulger in 1982 as he sat in a car beside Bulger’s intended target, has attended every session of the trial.
“It’s kind of all about him. Even his attitude toward some of the witnesses. You can see he certainly hasn’t changed his demeanor at all,” she said. “But those type of men, those SOBs as I would say, they don’t live forever.”