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BOSTON (AP) – Gangster James “Whitey” Bulger cannot present
evidence to a jury about his claim that he was given immunity for future
crimes, including murder, a federal judge ruled Monday.
U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns found that an immunity agreement “cannot
as a matter of public policy license future criminal conduct.”
Read the document here.
“The court concludes that any grant of prospective immunity to commit
murder was without authorization and is hence unenforceable under any
circumstance,” Stearns wrote.
Stearns, however, did not immediately rule on Bulger’s claim that
he received immunity for past crimes.
“Without knowledge of the date of the alleged agreement, however,
the court is unable to say whether this determination nullifies defendant’s
claim of immunity in its entirety (again, assuming proof of its existence),” he wrote.
Stearns gave lawyers additional time to submit written arguments and indicated
he will hold a pretrial hearing on Bulger’s claim of immunity for
The ruling was a blow to Bulger’s lawyers, who want to use the claim
of immunity as their defense during his trial.
Bulger, the former leader of the Winter Hill Gang, is accused of participating
in 19 killings. His trial is scheduled to begin June 6.
Bulger, now 83, was a fugitive for 16 years after fleeing Boston in late
1994 just before he was indicted. He was captured in Santa Monica, Calif.,
in June 2011.
Bulger claims he received immunity from federal prosecutor Jeremiah O’Sullivan,
who died in 2009.
In his ruling, Stearns agreed with prosecutors that he should rule on Bulger’s
immunity claim before trial.
Read the document here.
“Resolution of defendant’s immunity claim requires an inquiry
only into the existence, scope, and validity of the alleged agreement
he made with New England Organized Crime Strike Force Chief Jeremiah O’Sullivan,”
“It does not require the presentation of evidence regarding the commission
of any of the nineteen murders or other crimes with which defendant is
charged. The government’s motion is thus not only appropriately
raised, but calls for pretrial resolution.”
Stearns noted that Bulger has the right to testify in his own defense at
trial, regardless of the court’s ruling on his immunity claim. But
he also noted that testifying in one’s own defense can be limited
by rules relating to “materiality and perjury.”
Stearns said there has been a “paucity of information” provided
by Bulger’s defense regarding his claim of immunity. Bulger’s
lawyers have said only that O’Sullivan – some time before
December 1984 – promised Bulger immunity from prosecution for all
past and future crimes, up to and including murder.
Bulger’s lead attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., could not immediately be
reached for comment Monday. A spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz
declined to comment.
Bulger’s lawyers have argued that if the judge prevents Bulger from
presenting a defense based on his immunity claim, it will deprive Bulger
of his right to a fair trial.
“Whether or not the defendant was granted immunity is at the core
of this case,” the defense wrote in a court filing Friday.
Bulger’s lawyers have asked a federal appeals court to remove Stearns
from the case.
Carney argues that Stearns has a conflict of interest because he worked
as a prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston at the same
time as O’Sullivan. The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has not
indicated when it will rule on the request.
Carney recently stunned prosecutors when he said Bulger was never an FBI
informant. In documents filed in court Friday, prosecutors said the claim
that Bulger was not an FBI informant, but still had immunity is “both
strange and unsubstantiated.”
Read the document here