US District Court Judge Denise J. Casper ruled today that veteran Boston Globe journalists Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy can cover the trial of James “Whitey’’ Bulger, despite the objections of the South Boston gangster, who was recorded on jailhouse tapes describing his disdain for the two journalists who have chronicled his career for decades.
Casper issued her ruling from the bench in US District Court, where she was addressing a number of pretrial issues raised by attorneys for the 83-year-old Bulger and federal prosecutors. Bulger’s much-anticipated trial begins in earnest next week.
Cullen, a columnist, and Murphy, a reporter, are the authors of the recently published book, “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice.’’ Cullen and Murphy have also chronicled Bulger’s criminal career for decades for the Globe.
Bulger’s defense team put Cullen and Murphy on their witness list, saying they might need to be called to impeach testimony from key prosecution witnesses. But prosecutors from US Attorney Carmen Ortiz’s office, citing comments Bulger made in the jail conversations, argued that Bulger was motivated by his dislike of Cullen and Murphy.
In a letter to a friend, Bulger called Cullen a low-life and Murphy a traitor.
Casper did not address Bulger’s alleged motivation, but did say that Cullen and Murphy had rights to gather information as journalists, and their rights shouldn’t be interfered with.
Casper said her ruling addressed only a motion filed by the Globe on behalf of Cullen and Murphy. “I ruled on the motion that was before me,” Casper said.
Her ruling apparently did not address whether former Globe journalists Gerard O’Neill and Dick Lehr, who covered Bulger for the Globe and have written two books about him, could attend the trial, or whether Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr could. All three were also on the defense witness list.
After the hearing, defense attorney J.W. Carney Jr. read aloud from a motion he filed today in which he threatened to demand the sequestration of jurors if Globe editors “do not show better judgment’’ when publishing Cullen’s writing about the Bulger case.
Carney singled out a column by Cullen that was published today in the newspaper and on its related websites. In his column, Cullen criticized Bulger and his brother, William, the former president of the state Senate, but also noted that another brother, Jackie, was stripped of his state pension for helping James Bulger.
In court today, Casper said she had read Cullen’s column.
“From a First Amendment point of view I don’t know if it lends more support to your position, or more support to your opposing party’s point of view.” Casper said.
Carney did not press the issue. Shortly afterwards, Casper gave Cullen and Murphy the green light to cover the trial.