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Defense Begins Case In Bulger Trial


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer. The prosecution has completed its case in the trial of alleged mobster Whitey Bulger. Witness after witness described in great detail horrible crimes Bulger is accused of committing as the head of Boston's notorious Winter Hill Gang. The defense presents its case beginning next week, but it will not be easy. Some of the prosecution's witnesses were so dramatic, they left the jurors in tears. We spoke to WBUR's David Boeri yesterday. He's been covering the trial in Boston. We asked him what we might hear from the defense witnesses.

DAVID BOERI: It's interesting. This is a very limited defense, and each of those witnesses will be asked only a few questions, it appears. For the most part, they are former FBI agents, a few law enforcement people, and one, the wife of Bulger's former partner, Stephen Flemmi. And so what the defense is trying to do, because it's largely been stripped of its defense here - its main defense - so, it's trying to suggest that the witnesses were purchased with deals, incentives from the government; plea deals, lesser time, and other kinds of incentives. And so they're trying to suggest that in fact Bulger was the target, the victim of government mistreatment largely in deciding to go after him and empowering all his former pals.

WERTHEIMER: So, do you think that he will testify? Sounds like if he did, he would be the star of the show.

BOERI: He's not going to testify. The chances are slim to nil that he'll be testifying here. First of all, he would face just evisceration by the prosecution that has had, you know, something like 16 years or more to prepare questions for him. So, that's one thing. And the other thing is it's not in his interest in some ways to testify because this has largely been a vanity defense that they have raised. You know, of the 32 criminal counts against him, they've already acknowledged that he engaged in bookmaking, extortion, drug trafficking. And most of the charges they've acknowledged. And they've spent almost all their efforts on two areas: one, in terms of the murders - he's alleged to have committed 19. They insist he never killed women. There are two he is charged with killing. And so they've put their resources into defending from that. And also to show that he was never a top-echelon secret FBI informant, better known in the streets of organized crime as a rat.

WERTHEIMER: So, what do you think about how Whitey Bulger is faring in this trial? I mean, we've heard about people so horrified by the testimony they've heard that they cried. We've also heard that Whitey Bulger couldn't even look some of these people in the face. Why? I mean, what do you think that meant?

BOERI: He has affected this great nonchalance as if he couldn't care less what's going on. Only a couple of times when he - and of course he's paying attention - but he's hunched over, scribbling notes all the time. By the way, I have to tell you, two of his letters just sold for $2,000 apiece. So, I'm wondering if he's making money by scribbling all these notepads. But he affects this nonchalance, doesn't look up, occasionally has burst into hissing fits of throwing F-bombs at a couple of his archenemies, but largely just doesn't participate in this. So, meanwhile, as he's non-participating, the jurors can see pictures of victims' skulls that were found in the water. And because they were found in the water, they have this white patina to them that's eerie. They hear stories about the cruelest kinds of murder. One person talking about a shotgun being stuck in his mouth as Bulger demanded 200,000. Another man described - another real estate developer described Bulger pointing a machine gun at his crotch and telling him he wanted $400,000. These were common shakedown stories, and you won't be surprised to hear that people generally paid him.

WERTHEIMER: So, David, this trial, this much-anticipated trial, what's your view of what happened here?

BOERI: What's interesting is this has been a much smaller trial than was hoped for. And by that I mean the case is really all about Bulger and in a sense the tragedy is that it's not about much more than Bulger. Because Bulger himself is a small part of this story. He was a small man that was turned into a giant by the FBI and by the Department of Justice, who protected him and, in some cases, aided and abetted him. And so here, what I've never before seen - and I've been covering this for 26 years - what I've never before seen are the victims, the families of Bulger's victims, actually cheering the defense attorney for Whitey Bulger when he cross-examines the government witnesses and savages them. And it tells you because people want the bigger answers of how this guy was ever created and allowed to operate by the government. And so that has not happened here. It's been a small, narrow trial.

WERTHEIMER: That's WBUR's David Boeri. David, thank you very much.

BOERI: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.