BOSTON (CN) – Mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, who is serving two life sentences for murder and racketeering, got a fair trial, the First Circuit ruled.
Bulger, who ran South Boston’s notorious Winter Hill Gang, appealed his 2013 conviction, claiming testimony from an unreliable witness, procedural errors and prosecutorial misconduct tainted his case.
Bulger’s gang committed more than a dozen murders in the 1970s and ’80s, while Bulger was working for the FBI as an informant, supplying information on his rivals.
He became a fugitive in 1995, fleeing Boston on a tip from his FBI handler that he was about to be indicted. He was on the loose until 2011 when he was discovered in California. Whitey Bulger was headline fodder for years in Boston, as his brother, Billy Bulger, was president of the Massachusetts Senate for a record 18 years. Billy Bulger also was a president of the University of Massachusetts, but was forced to resign in 2003 after he refused to testify to Congress about whether he had communicated with his brother, who was still fugitive.
After Whitey Bulger was arrested, he was sent from California to Boston to face trial.
Bulger claimed he had immunity from 1984 onward, based on the reassurance of federal agent Jeremiah O’Sullivan. He also argued that his claim for immunity should have gone to the jury, rather than decided by the judge during pretrial.
The First Circuit rejected both arguments, finding that O’Sullivan never formally took the necessary steps to approve Bulger’s immunity with his superiors, and that the question of immunity would shape the scope of the trial, and whether it was even necessary, making it appropriate for pretrial determination.
Bulger also held onto a debunked theory that his former associate-turned government witness, John Martorano, had been allowed to continue illegal gambling.
The theory comes from an anonymous letter sent to government officials, and was investigated and deemed unfounded. Bulger argued that the court erred when it barred the letter from being entered as evidence, and by preventing testimony from State Trooper Nunzio Orlando, who was revealed as the author of the anonymous letter.
The First Circuit affirmed the court’s decision, noting that the illegal gambling rumor had been debunked.
“The government stands by the adequacy of its disclosure, arguing that it was not required to turn over evidence relative to unfounded allegations of investigative forbearance,” Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel. “And given that Orlando could only testify about disproven allegations, he was properly excluded.”
Bulger also argued that during trial the prosecution repeatedly and inappropriately objected, despite the judge’s instructions to explain their objections only if asked. Although the prosecution was admonished for the objections, the First Circuit did not find it egregious enough for a mistrial.
“We have some doubts that the prosecutor’s use of speaking objections amounted to prosecutorial misconduct, but even assuming it did, we cannot conclude that the conduct so poisoned the well as to warrant a new trial,” Thompson.
Also on the panel were Judges William Kayatta Jr. and David Barron.
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