Relatives of two people whom James “Whitey” Bulger is accused of killing three decades ago bristled Thursday at the gangster’s claim that he received immunity from a federal prosecutor to wage a reign of terror that authorities say included murder and extortion.
“No one gets a license to kill,” said Steve Davis, the brother of Debra Davis, who was 26 in 1981 when prosecutors say Bulger strangled her. “I don’t believe that one bit.”
Davis was reacting to a motion that Bulger’s lawyer, J.W. Carney Jr., filed Wednesday in which he identified former US attorney Jeremiah O’Sullivan as the official who Bulger says granted him immunity to commit crimes during the period covered in the federal indictment.
The indictment alleges that Bulger, now 83, participated in 19 murders, among a slew of other crimes. He is scheduled to stand trial in federal court in Boston this spring.
Davis questioned how such a blanket immunity agreement would benefit a federal prosecutor. “What would the government gain out of that, for him to kill all [those] people?”
Tom Donahue, the son of Michael Donahue whom Bulger is accused of fatally shooting in 1982, dismissed the immunity claim as a stall tactic. He said he doubts that it could be a successful defense, in light of the intense publicity surrounding the case.
“Not a chance in hell,” Donahue said.
Carney declined to comment Thursday.
The defense attorney identified O’Sullivan, who died in 2009, in a motion that he filed Wednesday requesting that US District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns recuse himself from the trial.
In testimony to Congress in 2002, O’Sullivan denied ever protecting Bulger from prosecution.
Carney wrote in the motion that Bulger will testify to the immunity agreement and that defense lawyers plan to call unnamed former US Department of Justice employees to testify about their involvement in compromising investigations that targeted the gangster.
In addition, Carney wrote, he plans to call other witnesses including Stearns and current FBI director Robert Mueller, both former top federal prosecutors in Boston, to testify about their failure for years to charge Bulger with any crimes, which he said could speak to an immunity agreement.
The FBI and the US attorney’s office declined to comment Thursday.
Anthony Cardinale, a prominent Boston lawyer who has represented one of Bulger’s alleged victims in civil proceedings, blasted the immunity claim in a phone interview.
“It’s a ludicrous defense strategy,” he said. “The thought that Jeremiah O’Sullivan or any other official of the Justice Department could or ever would grant a serial killer immunity to go about the countryside killing innocent people, including two very innocent young ladies, is bizarre, to say the least.”
Martin G. Weinberg, another Boston attorney who, like Cardinale, was involved in court proceedings in the 1990s that dealt with Bulger and an associate’s corrupt relationship with the FBI, was more measured in his response to the immunity claim.
“This is a step beyond the historic [legal] precedent” of such a defense, Weinberg said. “But all legal defenses begin with a single small step.”
He said he is not surprised Carney made the argument.
“I think Jay’s a very competent, experienced lawyer facing profound challenges in defending a very difficult case,” he said.Travis Andersen can be reached
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