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kevin cullen

Judge supplies full picture of Bulger’s empty existence

US District Court Judge Denise Casper (center) spoke Thursday at the sentencing hearing for convicted crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger (right). At left was Bulger’s attorney, J.W. Carney Jr.

Jane Collins/Reuters

US District Court Judge Denise Casper (center) spoke Thursday at the sentencing hearing for convicted crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger (right). At left was Bulger’s attorney, J.W. Carney Jr.

She had sat there through months of tedious hearings and weeks of stomach-turning testimony, and all the while US District Court Judge Denise Casper was the portrait of judicial equanimity and restraint, betraying not a hint of what she was feeling.

On Thursday morning, the judge pulled back justice’s veil just enough to show her humanity, to let us know that those black robes can obscure but cannot hide the character of the woman beneath.

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Judge Casper began by reading the names of the dead, the 11 people Whitey Bulger was convicted of murdering, and in the courtroom the loved ones of the dead nodded in solemn acknowledgment.

“It is hard to know where to begin,” she said as she dispatched Bulger to a prison cell from which he can escape only when he breathes no more.

“The scope, the callousness, the depravity of your crimes are almost unfathomable. As the presiding judge, I was certainly aware of the range of criminal allegations against you before the trial began. But, even so, even having some sense of the subject matter to expect at this trial, the testimony of human suffering that you and your associates inflicted on others was at times agonizing to hear and painful to watch.

“At times during the trial, I wished that we were watching a movie, that what we were hearing was not real, but as the families of the victims here know too well, it was not a movie. At trial we were hearing about the real inhumane things that human beings did to other human beings, seemingly without remorse and without regret.”

As she sat there all those weeks, Casper was waiting for some explanation, some deeper, complex reason for why Bulger would shoot men or strangle women and bury their mutilated corpses in shallow graves, denying their families a body and some closure. But her epiphany never came. Instead, she was left to mull something even more disturbing, even darker, because it was so mundane.

“At base,” she told Bulger, “the motivation for your entire criminal enterprise was money. Money and extorting more money. Money in threatening or harming those who didn’t pay up to you or, in your estimation, didn’t pay enough. Money in dominating the drug trade in South Boston. Money being laundered through businesses that you controlled in the names of others. Money in co-opting certain law enforcement officers and agents. And money in killing people who might bring down your organization for cooperating with legitimate law enforcement officers. Your crimes, in my estimation, are made all the more heinous because they were all about money.”

In his self-centered ramblings from jail, in the racist, curmudgeonly views expressed to his neighbors in Santa Monica, where he hid in plain view for some 15 years, Bulger revealed himself to be a vainglorious bigot, a man who did not believe the races should mix, a Neanderthal who believed women should know their place.

How delicious and even poignant the irony, then, that he had to sit there for the better part of an hour and listen to an African-American woman of integrity and intellect lecture him as she deconstructed his carefully crafted, ludicrously exaggerated view of himself as a gangster with scruples, a criminal of above-average intelligence.

“Mr. Bulger,” Casper said, “I don’t doubt for a second that you’re an intelligent person, intelligent enough to prey upon those who had no legal recourse. You extorted money from other criminals, large-scale drug dealers, bookmakers, loan sharks whom you convinced needed your protection, and those who were otherwise beholden to you.

“By the time you extorted money from legitimate businessmen, your reputation for violence and for having co-opted law enforcement was so well established that they also found themselves with no recourse and could only comply with your demands.

“But make no mistake, it takes no business acumen to take money from folks at the end of a gun.”

As Casper saw it, it takes neither intelligence nor skill to stick a gun in one man’s crotch.

It takes no courage, no character to stick a gun in another man’s mouth.

She also took aim at Whitey’s preening sense of grievance, that he was the victim here, that a corrupt government used him as an informant and discarded him, then used admitted killers, thugs, and thieves to take him out. In this perverted view of right and wrong, Whitey was on the side of angels. The judge would have none of it. For whatever the FBI did to protect him, it was Bulger who fired bullets into brains. It was Bulger who hid the bodies of his victims. He cared not a whit about exposing government corruption.

“Whatever righteousness you claim in your defenses is surely undermined by your being on the run for such a long time,” Casper said.

“Mr. Bulger, I do also feel compelled at this juncture to say something about what has now become your repeated position, that your trial was a sham.

“It will certainly be for another court, another court in this building, in fact, to rule on the correctness of my legal rulings, but there’s nothing about the consideration I gave those legal issues and the protection of your rights as a criminal defendant, the excellent advocacy that you received in your defense, the verdict that was rendered by this jury, and the respect that I have shown you from day one in these proceedings that was a sham.

“You can call it what you want,” she said, just a hint of indignation in her voice, “but in my humble estimation, you received the fair and full trial that every defendant in this country is entitled to.”

Before she announced sentence, Casper considered the time and place of Whitey Bulger, regretting his notoriety.

Without explicitly citing the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings and the jubilation following the improbable championship season of the Red Sox, she made an implicit reference and put Bulger in his proper context.

“Much ink has been spilled about you, Mr. Bulger,” she said.

“Your impact on the city, on South Boston in particular, your flight, and this trial. I imagine in the wake of this judgment and the close of this criminal case that there will be much more ink written about you, some of which you may solicit and some of which you won’t. You have over time and in certain quarters become a face of this city. That is regrettable. You and others may be deluded into thinking that you represent this city, but you, sir, do not represent this city.

“This year, 2013, with all that’s happened in this city, the City of Boston, both tragic and triumphant, you and the horrible things that were recounted by your cohorts during the course of this trial do not and should not represent this city.”

Having been dressed down and put in his place, Whitey Bulger shuffled off into an anteroom, into obscurity, into the bowels of a courthouse named after an old neighbor, leaving behind a city and a judge that have consigned him to the trash heap of history.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeCullen.

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