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US says kin of victims have right to speak in Bulger trial

Defense seeking limits

Federal prosecutors in the case of James “Whitey” Bulger defended Tuesday the right of family members of the notorious gangster’s alleged victims to testify at his upcoming trial.

The prosecutors cited previous court rulings that noted, “It seems rather unfair to kill a woman’s husband and then complain because she cries.”

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“The government will call victims’ family members to testify regarding firsthand knowledge relevant to the offenses charged, for instance, events surrounding the disappearance of their loved ones, including the identification of the individuals who were murdered by Bulger and his gang,” prosecutors said in a filing Tuesday.

Bulger’s racketeering trial is slated to begin next week, with jury selections Tuesday. The ­trial could last three months.

Now 83, Bulger was one of America’s Most Wanted until his capture in June 2011, in Santa Monica, Calif.

He is accused of participating in 19 killings and also faces charges of extortion and other violent crimes.

During last-minute filings last week, lawyers for Bulger asked that testimony by family members of his alleged victims be limited to only relevant infor­mation, arguing that any emotional testimony would ­unfairly prejudice the jury.

The defense request was criticized by one family member who called it disgusting.

In a filing Tuesday, prosecutors argued that the families have the right to offer testimony to identify their loved ones and said the courts have established that any trial involving victims is bound to have some prejudicial evidence.

“Trials were never meant to be antiseptic affairs,” the prosecutors said, citing court rulings.

“This court should not . . . preemptively bar the government from legitimate areas of inquiry because the family members of James Bulger’s 19 murder victims are grief-
stricken,” prosecutors said.

Also Tuesday, Bulger’s lawyers asked US District Court Judge Denise Casper to extend last week’s deadline to file last-minute motions, saying the government’s list of witnesses and exhibits “raised new issues that need to be addressed prior to trial.”

The lawyers also said they need time to finalize the ­motions because of the “substantial time limitations” they faced preparing for the trial.

Casper had not ruled on the request Tuesday night.

With the request to extend the deadline, the lawyers submitted a motion seeking to question a government witness about past decisions to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The witness, former FBI super­visor John Morris, who has cooperated with authorities, has invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in prior civil proceedings related to the Bulger case.

Morris oversaw corrupt FBI handler John Connolly Jr. and provided information under immunity that led to Connolly’s conviction. Morris has ­acknowledged he received bribes from Bulger, though he was never charged.

Bulger’s lawyers argue: “Morris’s exercise of his right to remain silent demonstrates that his criminal misconduct is far greater than what he has disclosed. . . . Morris’s refusal to be forthcoming about the true scope of his involvement in the crimes alleged in this case, includ­ing murder, dramatically undermines his credibility.”

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at MValencia@
globe.com
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