BOSTON — The 8-year prison term given to the longtime girlfriend of Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger for helping him during his 16 years on the run is three times higher than the sentence she should have received, her lawyer argued Tuesday to a federal appeals court.
Greig pleaded guilty to conspiracy to harbor a fugitive and other charges after she and Bulger were captured in California in 2011 after 16 years on the run.
Bulger, the 83-year-old former leader of the Winter Hill Gang, is awaiting trial in June on charges of playing a role in 19 murders.
During arguments before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Greig's lawyer, Dana Curhan, said U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock gave her far too much time on the harboring charge.
Curhan agreed with Woodlock that there has never been a harboring case like Greig's case, but he said he believes the judge started his sentencing calculation by using a level in federal sentencing guidelines that was too high.
"I think maybe living with Bulger and a lot of the activities that went on in their lives was not necessarily harboring," Curhan said.
First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Pirozzolo said Greig was sentenced appropriately because she did a variety of things to help conceal Bulger for years, including doing the couple's grocery shopping, paying their bills and using a false identity to get his prescription medications.
"You had all of this array of criminal conduct that goes well beyond turning a key in a door," Pirozzolo said.
The three-judge panel, which included retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, questioned Curhan repeatedly about his contention that Greig received too much time on the harboring charge.
"This isn't a mere overnight sheltering of somebody who ran in," Souter said.
Justice Norman Stahl noted that Greig was on the run with Bulger for 16 years and said without her help he "would have been much more likely to be discovered."
The justices did not indicate when they will issue their ruling, but generally decisions from the court are released between one and three months after oral arguments.
After the hearing, Curhan said he believes Woodlock should have sentenced Greig to between 2 years and 3 months and 2 years and 9 months, a range that was recommended by the Department of Probation before Greig was sentenced.
"To effectively triple the sentence, I thought was inappropriate," he said.
In a written brief filed with the court, Curhan also argued that relatives of Bulger's alleged victims should not have been allowed to address the court and excoriate Greig during her sentencing hearing because they were not direct victims of her crimes. The justices did not ask Curhan about that argument during the hearing.
Family members who listened to the arguments Tuesday said they believe Greig's sentence was appropriate or even too low.
"She was an enabler," said Patricia Donahue, the widow of Michael Donahue, who Bulger allegedly killed in 1982.
"She made it easy for him to get his medication and to go on the streets and to see different people. She was his identity ... so that made it easier for him to stay out there all that time."
Steve Davis, who says his sister was among Bulger's victims, said he believed Greig's case ended when she pleaded guilty.
"Do your time, shut your mouth," Davis said.
"She did what she did, and she deserved what she's got coming to her."
Greig's twin sister, Margaret McCusker, who attended the hearing, said, "I'm just hoping for the best."