James “Whitey” Bulger’s lawyer told a federal judge Thursday that the gangster’s right to a fair trial will be violated if the court insists on sticking with a March 4 date, but prosecutors argued that he has already avoided justice for far too long while a fugitive.
After a 15-minute hearing, which Bulger did not attend, US District Judge Richard G. Stearns said he will issue a written ruling in several days on the defense’s request to postpone the trial from March 4 to November 2013.
Boston lawyer J.W. Carney Jr., appointed to represent Bulger a week after his arrest in June 2011, said the amount of evidence turned over by the government — more than 364,000 pages of documents spanning decades — is like nothing he has ever seen, making it impossible to be ready for trial in four months.
“A fair trial before a fair judge does not begin with impanelment of a jury,” Carney said. “It begins with allowing the defense counsel to prepare the case.”
He stressed that Bulger, an FBI informant charged in a sweeping racketeering case that includes charges that he participated in 19 murders, has a constitutional right to adequately prepare for trial. “The true test of our fairness is how the court handles a defendant who has been demonized, as he has,” Carney said.
Assistant US Attorney Brian T. Kelly argued Bulger has unfairly delayed his trial by fleeing Boston shortly before his January 1995 federal racketeering indictment and avoiding capture for more than 16 years.
“No one is rushing this case,” Kelly told the judge. “We think the defendant is trying to continually stall this case.”
Kelly argued that the case is not as complex as a financial securities or patent case and involves crossexamination of witnesses who will testify about “murder and mayhem.”
Relatives of some of the 83-year-old Bulger’s alleged victims said they oppose any delays because they fear he will die before the trial. Bulger, who has always been a fitness fanatic, is confined in a segregation unit at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility, where he is locked up 23 hours a day.
“Time’s not on our side,” said Tom Donahue, whose father was allegedly gunned down by Bulger in 1982 on the South Boston waterfront while giving a ride to a man who was the intended target.
But after the hearing, Carney told reporters Bulger’s health remains good.
“He is mentally very sharp,” Carney said. “He has an excellent memory, and he is very much looking forward to testifying at his trial.”
Carney has said he will argue that Bulger was promised immunity from prosecution by a federal prosecutor. Bulger’s longtime handler, retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr., was convicted of warning Bulger to flee just before his indictment and also of participating in a murder with the gangster.
Bulger, a fixture on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, was captured June 22, 2011, in Santa Monica, Calif., along with his girlfriend, Catherine Greig. Greig was sentenced in June to eight years in prison for conspiracy to harbor a fugitive, conspiracy to commit identity fraud, and identity fraud.Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.