Closing Arguments Begin In 'Whitey' Bulger Trial

Jurors in the James "Whitey" Bulger trial got to listen to several hours of closing arguments in a Boston federal courtroom on Monday. Bulger is the former mob boss accused of litany of crimes including racketeering, murder, extortion and money laundering.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

To Boston now where jurors heard closing arguments today in the James "Whitey" Bulger trial. Bulger is a notorious mobster accused of murder, racketeering and extortion, among other charges. Prosecutors closed their case against Bulger, calling him one of the scariest people ever to walk the streets of Boston.

On the other side, defense attorneys pointed to what they called systemic government corruption. NPR's Tovia Smith joins us now from the federal courthouse in Boston. And, Tovia, this case has had a lot of drama. What else did the prosecution have to say about Whitey Bulger?

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: It was riveting storytelling today by both sides. First, the prosecutors said that evidence over the past seven weeks proves that Whitey Bulger was no Robin Hood, but rather one of the most vicious and violent, calculating criminals ever.

The prosecutor, Fred Wyshak, started with what Bulger's defense attorneys even admitted on day one, that the mob boss was, in fact, making millions from criminal activity, but then recapped all the most graphic evidence of the 19 murders he's accused of, a photo of a skull with a bullet hole, went through a litany of allegations showing how cold and callous Bulger allegedly was, joking about murders in one case where he passed by where a victim was buried near a river, and he always joked, drink up, Paulie(ph), which was the name of the victim, taking a nap after murders.

The prosecutor went on and on, asking jurors to bear with him even as he detailed counts that Bulger wasn't even contesting. It was almost as if he couldn't help it on this case that he's been building for two decades, and he was very emotional.

CORNISH: So what was Whitey Bulger's reaction to this?

SMITH: He showed no emotion at all, most of the time just slumped at his table, never looking up, even on things he cares about, like whether he was or wasn't an informant, whether he killed women or about government corruption. Prosecutors spent a lot of time arguing that all of that was irrelevant, that Bulger is the only one on trial here. And, for example, when he killed someone, whether or not he was an informant doesn't really matter.

CORNISH: So tell us more about the defense. I mean, how did James Bulger's attorneys wrap up their case?

SMITH: Two ways. One, Carney, J.W. Carney, attacked the credibility of the government star witnesses, three of them, imploring jurors to be skeptical of these guys who were former Bulger associates. He laid out the immunity deals these guys had, arguing that their testimony was bought, he said, for an obscene price. He recalled how one of them admitted, quote, "I've been lying my whole life." He had that transcribed, like super-sized on a poster board for jurors. Then he quipped: The government wants you to believe that he's telling the truth now.

Earlier, the other defense attorney spent no time trying to point to reasonable doubt. Instead, he focused on the government's alleged misconduct, their unholy alliance with criminals, appearing to encourage jury nullification when - where the jury is simply so mad at the government for what it did that they just won't give the government its conviction. This defense attorney sounded more like a prosecutor making the case that the government was acting like thugs and outlaws and that it wasn't a few bad apples but a systematic problem.

And he implored jurors: Make up your own mind about what would be equal justice. But then prosecutors got a second chance to speak and told jurors not to take their eyes off the ball, that coming to a verdict to just, quote, "send the message that the big, bad government needs to learn a lesson from this case would be a violation of their oath in this case."

CORNISH: And the jury begins deliberating tomorrow the possible punishments that Bulger could face?

SMITH: Varying sentences on these different counts. But for this 83-year-old man, even a partial conviction on a few charges would effectively mean life in prison. And after this, he is still facing murder charges in Oklahoma and Florida, both death penalty states. So there's really little suspense here on whether James "Whitey" Bulger is ever going to walk free again.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Tovia Smith in Boston. Tovia, thanks so much.

SMITH: Thank you.

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