Whitey Bulger’s trial draws high interest

Federal officials warned Thursday that space will be limited at the upcoming trial of James “Whitey” Bulger, but said they will reserve seats for Bulger’s family and the families of his 19 alleged victims.

The officials said they also plan to set aside 15 seats each for reporters and the public in the 70-seat courtroom where US District Judge Denise Casper will preside over the trial, set to begin June 10.

“We’re trying very hard to balance the various interests, and our overall responsibility is to have a fair and seamless public trial,” said Gary H. Wente, circuit executive for the US Courts for the First Circuit.


During a meeting with the media at the courthouse Thursday, Wente and representatives from the US Marshals Service, the Federal Protective Service, and the US attorney’s office discussed logistics, security, and access for the trial.

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Wente said court officials tentatively plan to reserve 20 seats for the families of the alleged victims and five seats for Bulger’s family, but would reevaluate that figure each day to accommodate the families.

The court will also set up two overflow rooms, one for the news media and one for the public, where the proceedings will be shown on a video screen.

“In a courtroom that cannot accommodate all the people that want to be in there at any given time, we can easily accommodate each group and also provide for video and audio in other courtrooms,” Wente said.

Christina DiIorio Sterling, a spokeswoman for the US attorney’s office, said, “We understand that space is limited, but we are pleased that the court is able to accommodate the victims’ families.”


Bulger’s case has drawn intense national interest and some international interest, and federal officials said they want to make sure they provide access to the trial without disrupting the court. The trial is expected to run through mid-September.

A barricaded area will be set up outside the John Joseph Moakley US Courthouse, away from the front entrance, for news media interviews of people involved in the case.

Bulger, 83, is charged in a sweeping federal racketeering case with participating in 19 slayings in the 1970s and 1980s. He fled Boston shortly before his 1995 indictment and eluded capture for more than 16 years until his arrest in June 2011 in Santa Monica, Calif.

While he was a fugitive, the FBI said that Bulger had been a longtime FBI informant, and his former handler, John J. ­Connolly Jr., was convicted of murder and racketeering.

Bulger denies he was an FBI informant, but says a former federal prosecutor, who died in 2009, promised him immunity from federal prosecution for all his crimes, including murder.


Casper has scheduled a hearing April 19 on Bulger’s ­request to allow the jury to ­decide his claim that he had immu­nity. Casper was assigned to Bulger’s case last month after the original trial judge, Richard G. Stearns, was ordered by a federal appeals court to recuse himself because he was a top-ranking prosecutor in the US attorney’s office around the time Bulger says he was granted ­immunity.

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@­