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One of the witnesses , is 88, and lives in Tennessee. Another, a former high ranking official in the FBI, is 85, and lives in Arizona. A third, Lawrence Sarhatt, the former head of the FBI in Boston, is 83 and lives in Michigan.

All of them, according to prosecutors, are key to the case against Robert Fitzpatrick, the retired FBI agent who was charged earlier this year with lying under oath during the James “Whitey” Bulger trial in 2013.

But all of them, according to prosecutors, are so old and so ill — throwbacks to the time Fitzpatrick, in his mid-70s, was in the FBI and Bulger was committing crimes — that investigators want to take the rare step of preserving their testimony in depositions, in case their conditions worsen or they die before Fitzpatrick’s trial.

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“There’s a compelling need to depose these witnesses, sooner rather than later,” Assistant US Attorney Zachary Hafer argued at a hearing in federal court in Boston on Wednesday.

At the end of the hearing, US Magistrate Judge Donald L. Cabell approved Hafer’s request, though he agreed to span out the three depositions and postpone them for several months so that Fitzpatrick’s lawyer could properly prepare to cross-examine the same witnesses.

“I get a sense of their condition,” Cabell said.

Fitzpatrick, who was second in command of the FBI’s Boston office in the 1980s, is accused of lying under oath during Bulger’s trial, in which he sought to paint a picture of corruption in the FBI’s Boston office in the 1980s that he was tasked with remedying. Prosecutors say he was trying to inflate his role, that he lied about his dealings with Bulger, and they say he overstated his accomplishments to enhance his credibility.

For instance, prosecutors say he lied when he testified that he found the rifle used to kill the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. the day he was assassinated in 1968, and when he said he had arrested then-New England Mafia underboss Gennaro “Jerry” Angiulo in 1983.

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Fitzpatrick, who coauthored a book, “Betrayal, Whitey Bulger and the FBI Agent Who Fought to Bring Him Down,” faces 12 charges, some of which carry punishments of up to 12 years in prison. He is free on $50,000 unsecured bond.


Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia.