The stories from the dozens of potential jurors questioned in federal court Monday about whether they are fit to decide the case against James “Whitey” Bulger were as varied as the people who told them.
There was a gray-haired man who explained that his arrest for lewdness a decade ago was because he locked himself out of his apartment while half-asleep on the way to the bathroom, and he was stranded “butt naked out in the hallway.”
One young woman recounted how she witnessed a shooting in Texas when she was smoking “weed” with people she just met, then called 911. But “I didn’t wait around for the ambulance to show up,” she said.
Both individuals were among 70 potential jurors in a pool that will return to court Tuesday for the final stage of jury selection in the trial, which is drawing widespread attention across the nation. They survived a marathon session, in which dozens of people were called into the courtroom one by one.
US District Judge Denise J. Casper sat beside them, politely probing for details to answers on their questionnaires that had been flagged by the prosecution or defense.
“Take a deep breath,” Casper said soothingly to a woman who became emotional as she talked about her declining health and again to another woman who nervously described how she could not serve on the jury because she had to care for her dog, who had lost the use of his rear legs. Both women were excused.
Opening statements in Bulger’s racketeering and murder trial are scheduled for Wednesday, but the defendant’s attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., urged the judge to postpone them until Monday. Carney wants time to investigate allegations that the prosecution has ignored recent crimes by a hitman-turned-
The judge took the matter under advisement and ordered prosecutors to provide her with more documents that they say will prove that the allegations were false.
Bulger, 83, dressed in jeans and a hunter green long-sleeved jersey, appeared relaxed, even cracking a smile a few times, as he huddled with his two lawyers, seated at a table just a few feet from the potential jurors. The three prosecutors sat directly across from him.
The former South Boston gangster is charged in a sweeping federal racketeering indictment that alleges he participated in 19 murders in the 1970s and 1980s; oversaw a gang that extorted money from drug dealers, bookmakers, loan sharks, and businessmen; laundered his criminal profits through real estate; and stockpiled guns.
Bulger was a fugitive for 16 years before his capture in Santa Monica, Calif., two years ago. He denies he is an FBI informant, though his informant file is voluminous.
The selection process began last week with 858 jurors being called to the court, the largest federal jury pool in the district of Massachusetts. After the prosecution and defense reviewed the questionnaires, 150 people were called back on Monday.
Those questioned included a state prosecutor, a professor, a high school teacher, people who read books and newspaper accounts about Bulger, the mother of an Everett police officer, and some who were familiar with relatives of Bulger or his alleged victims.
One woman said she knows the nephew of Patricia Donahue, the wife of Michael Donahue, who was allegedly gunned down by Bulger in 1982 while giving a ride home to another man who was the intended target. “Her son did say his father was killed by the mob, but he didn’t say who,” the potential juror said.
Carney argued that “she’s way too close to the wife of a murder victim in this case.”
But the judge allowed the woman to stay in the pool.
During a heated argument in court after jury selection finished for the day, Carney accused the government of “a coverup” for failing to turn over documents that allege that the State Police protected John Martorano, a key government witness, from being investigated for ongoing crimes.
Martorano, who cut a deal with the government to cooperate against Bulger and corrupt FBI agents, admitted to 20 murders and served only 12 years in prison.
Carney said he only learned recently that a state trooper claimed he tried to investigate Martorano for recent crimes, but State Police Detective Lieutenant Stephen Johnson had interfered. Johnson is part of the team that painstakingly built the case against Bulger and uncovered secret graves of some of his alleged victims.
Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak called Carney’s allegations “fantasy” and argued that the trooper, who was not identified in court, wrote an anonymous letter to a federal prosecutor falsely accusing Johnson of protecting Martorano because he had an ulterior motive.
Wyshak said the trooper lied under oath to investigators when asked if he had written it, then confessed when investigators found portions of the letter on his computer.
Wyshak said prosecutors had disclosed some of the information to US District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns, who was presiding over the case until he was ordered to recuse himself several months ago. He had ruled they were not required to share it with the defense.
Boston attorney Leonard Kesten, who represents the unidentified trooper, said the trooper wrote the anonymous letter out of “sheer frustration” because his supervisors failed to investigate his complaints.
“He stands by everything that he ever reported,” Kesten said.
But the jury selection dominated the day, with Casper seeking to learn a bit more about potential jurors. Some claimed hardships, saying they could not afford to sit on the trial without working; some had medical issues; and others had vacation plans. Many of them were excused.
The trial is expected to last through September.