As the trial of James “Whitey” Bulger nears its end, a key question will finally be answered Friday: Will the 83-year-old gangster testify on his own behalf, or will he let the word of others seal his fate?
J.W. Carney Jr., one of Bulger’s lawyers, gave no indication Thursday, saying only that the defense team is still deciding. But a series of photos of Bulger over his life that the team introduced as possible exhibits Wednesday night intensified speculation.
“I took them in anticipation of Mr. Bulger taking the stand,” US District Court Denise J. Casper said Thursday, after jurors had left for the day.
She warned Carney that he will have to decide whether Bulger testifes by Friday, and he responded, “I’ll be ready.”
Outside the court house, Carney would only say that Bulger has been prepped for testimony and that “if Mr. Bulger takes the stand, he will discuss all relevant subjects for as long as necessary.”
“Every criminal defendant has until the last witness is presented in the defense to make a decision as to whether he or she would testify,” Carney said.
Earlier this year, Carney vowed that Bulger would take the stand. But Casper has ruled that he cannot raise an immunity defense on the stand, and that may influence his decision.
Bulger’s defense team had sought to ask jurors to consider his contention that the federal government granted him immunity for all of his crimes, including murder.
The question of whether Bulger will testify remains perhaps the last great mystery in his high-profile trial, after 71 witnesses over 34 days of testimony described a world in which Bulger ruled for decades through murder and extortion while being protected by corrupt FBI handlers.
He is charged in a sweeping racketeering indictment with participating in 19 murders.
Bulger’s lawyers have sought to prove that he was never an FBI informant and that he did not kill women, specifically not the two women who are listed among his alleged victims.
Shawn Donahue — the son of one of Bulger’s alleged victims, Michael Donahue — said he hopes Bulger testifies so he could hear his story and learn “the truth” about the decades of corruption that plagued the FBI.
“We want to find out who was involved, who in the FBI was involved, who in the Justice Department, especially, was involved,” he said.
“What does he have to lose? He’s going to spend the rest of his life in prison, anyway,” Donahue said.
Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak called on Casper to sanction Bulger’s lawyers if the gangster does not take the stand, saying the release of the 20 photos into a public record before they have been introduced as evidence violated a gag order in the case.
Some of the images, most of which have already been published in the media, show Bulger in a sympathetic view: He is seen with two poodles, a baby goat, with his brothers, and with his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig.
“This is obviously an attempt to salvage Mr. Bulger’s reputation,” Wyshak said.
By Thursday morning, news outlets including the Globe began to report that a priest pictured with Bulger in one of the photos was the former vice chancellor of the Boston archdiocese, Frederick J. Ryan, who was defrocked by the Vatican for allegedly sexually abusing teenage boys in the 1980s.
Carney would not comment on the photo or say whether he knew of the disgraced priest before he indicated the photo could be used as evidence.
As the trial entered its final stages, lawyers continue to wrangle over unresolved legal issues.
Carney, for instance, has asked that jurors be instructed on the crime of accessory to murder, in addition to murder, so that they could better determine Bulger’s alleged role in crimes.
The lawyers are also considering how to let jurors review the $822,000 in cash that was confiscated from Bulger’s home in California after his arrest in June 2011 and introduced as evidence.
Carney says the bills should be reviewed to see whether they were printed after 2000, the end of the alleged conspiracy listed in the indictment.
If so, Carney said, jurors could determine that the money was not the product of any crime.
On Friday, Bulger’s lawyers plan to call two final witnesses to build their case that the gangster was not an FBI informant and that he did not kill women.
Desi Sideropolous, who has worked in the FBI for decades, is expected to take the stand, as well as John Martorano, one of Bulger’s former associates, who testified earlier in the trial.
Martorano admitted to 20 murders but served only 12 years in prison after agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors and testify about Bulger and his corrupt relationship with the FBI.
Bulger’s lawyers hope to use his testimony to show that Bulger’s partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, gave contradicting statements when he testified against Bulger in the trial.
Martorano, for instance, is expected to testify that Flemmi told him he accidentally killed his girlfriend, Debra Davis, who went missing in 1981.
Her remains were recovered in 2000, and Flemmi has blamed Bulger for the killing.
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