BOSTON -- The trial of one of America's most infamous mob bosses began last week with an extraordinarily challenging jury selection. But the real show starts Wednesday as prosecutors unload their opening statements against James "Whitey" Bulger on charges that he's responsible for 19 murders.
Just 24 hours ago, the chance that assistant prosecutors from the U.S. attorney's office would begin building their case brick-by-brick against the onetime crime chieftain seemed remote. It had taken longer than was originally scheduled to winnow a panel of more than 800 potential jurors into a pool of 12 jury members and six alternates. Plus, there were last-minute motions filed by the defense to further slow down the trial.
The tight schedule of U.S. District Judge Denise Casper paid dividends by Tuesday afternoon as eight men and four women were chosen for jury duty and three men and three women were poised to step in as replacements. The civic duty they've been called to answer is a formidable one, as the trial will take at least three-to-four months, though they will not be sequestered.
The decision to move ahead with opening statements on Wednesday dealt a blow to the formidable defense team of J.W. Carney and Hank Brennan. They motioned to push back opening statements amid allegations they raised that John Mortarano, a government witness and former hit man in Bulger's gang, has continued to break the law since his release from prison in 2007.
In previous rulings, Casper also shot down requests by the defense attorneys to obtain the name of secret law enforcement informants. But the defense scored a mild victory when it was agreed that there would be limits to the testimony that victims' families could unleash from the witness stand.
It will require the strong story-telling powers of the prosecution to lay out the full scope of Bulger'a alleged criminal lifespan. The indictment concerns a host of racketeering crimes from the 1970s and 1980s when Bulger was allegedly at the height of his power, making millions from prostitution, drug-dealing, loan-sharking, gambling and other get-rich-quick scams.
The feds will also introduce hundreds of pages of documents detailing Bulger's years when they say he was serving as a mole for the FBI, primarily supplying his handler with details about the Italian mafia. In exchange, the FBI overlooked Bulger's crimes and even helped him escape prosecution in 1994 by tipping him off to a coming indictment.
With that tip, Bulger vanished for 16 years, spending most of the time living with longtime girlfriend Catherine Greig as an inconspicuous elderly couple in Santa Monica, Calif. He was arrested there in 2011.
The 33-count indictment against the 83-year-old Bulger includes charges that he killed or arranged the murder of 19 people. Some were gangland ruffians themselves, while others were girlfriends who knew too much or bystanders felled by bullets aimed for another target. He's being held without bail.
When it's the defense team's turn to speak, they're expected to continue denying that Bulger ever cooperated with federal law enforcement. However, his lawyers have also insisted that the deceased U.S. prosecutor for Boston in the early 1980s, a lawyer named Jeremiah O'Sullivan, granted Bulger immunity.
Casper has effectively blocked Bulger's lawyers from broaching the topic of immunity. So instead, Carney and Brennan have set their cross-examination crosshairs on witnesses drawn from the ranks of Bulger's Winter Hill Gang. Men with blood on their hands like Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi and hit man John Martorano are expected to testify about murder allegedly committed by or ordered by Bulger. But the defense team says the credibility of such men is in serious doubt.