Jury To Decide James 'Whitey' Bulger Case

Federal prosecutors and defense attorneys gave their closing arguments on Monday. One side calling Bulger vicious and violent — the other calling the government systematically corrupt. The former south Boston mob boss is accused of a rash of crimes including 19 murders.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne. The federal racketeering case against James "Whitey" Bulger goes to the jury today. Among other charges, he's accused of killing 19 people. But a conviction on even a few of the charges could land the 83-year-old former mob boss in prison for the rest of his life.

Both sides made their closing arguments yesterday. One called Bulger vicious and violent; the other calling the government systematically corrupt. Here's NPR's Tovia Smith with our report.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Prosecutors painted Bulger as a twisted killer, so callous he laughed after murders, or took a nap as others pulled out victims' teeth so bodies couldn't be identified. Prosecutor Fred Wyshak got emotional telling jurors that Bulger had no qualms about murdering even innocents. This was not some Robin Hood story, Wyshak said, but rather a ruthless man who strangled women with his own hands, tortured extortion victims for hours, and joked every time he passed a victim's secret, makeshift grave.

For their part, defense attorneys told jurors not to believe the government's star witnesses; confessed killers who were Bulger's partners in crime before they got special deals with the government, giving them leniency in exchange for their testimony.

J.W. Carney said the government bought the testimony of those witnesses, who'd say anything for their sweetheart deals. The prosecutor paid a big price, Carney told jurors, but they got their money's worth. Twice, Wyshak shouted an objection - rare at closings. He called Carney out of line and unprofessional. The judge overruled, and Carney pressed on.

J.W. CARNEY: Well, I think I know the limits that a lawyer can go. And I stayed within those limits, in my opinion.

SMITH: Carney attacked not only the government's case but also the government, urging jurors to consider law enforcement's unholy alliance with criminal informants and to, quote, "find the strength to stand up to government corruption."

Prosecutors shot back that only Bulger is on trial here; and for jurors to try and use this case to, quote, "send a message that the big, bad government needs to learn a lesson" would violate their oath as jurors. Carney dismissed suggestions he was aiming for jury nullification - the legal term for when jurors get so mad at the government, they refuse to give the government a conviction.

But his co-counsel was a little less circumspect, saying there should be accountability for gangs and governments. In fact, Hank Brennan suggested corrupt law enforcement agents acted a lot like mob thugs. If you're against them he said, wtch out - they crush you. Brennan implored jurors to, quote, "let the government know this is our government." He spoke briefly to reporters after court.

HANK BRENNAN: To make change in future we have to learn from our mistakes in the past and we have to recognize our shortcomings.

SMITH: Relatives of Bulger's victims, like Tom Donahue, said they were impressed by both prosecutors attacking Bulger and defense attorneys attacking law enforcement.

TOM DONAHUE: I thought great job in steaming it to government. You know, a lot of people say the government wasn't on trial here. Yes, they were.

SMITH: While both sides continued to war over whether Bulger was an informant, the prosecutor told jurors it was irrelevant. It only matters to Bulger, he said, because he worries more about being seen as a rat than a murderous thug.

Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

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