The pool of potential jurors for the much-anticipated federal trial of notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger was narrowed today from hundreds to just 70 people.
Those who survived the cut will return to court Tuesday, where the group will be whittled down even further. The goal is to ultimately pick a panel of 12 jurors and six alternates.
Those who are still candidates for the jury include a psychiatrist, a college professor, a high school teacher, and a bank worker.
Those excused from jury service offered a variety of reasons, most having to do with health problems or work obligations, some of them colorful. One was scheduled to go to a wedding, another had booked a vacation, and one had a dog that had lost its legs and needed her care. Others excused included a woman who worked for a criminal defense attorney, and an assistant district attorney.
Bulger is facing a 32-count federal indictment alleging that he, among other things, participated in 19 murders. Now 83, Bulger was allegedly a fearsome presence in Boston’s underworld for decades before becoming a fugitive who eluded the FBI for 16 years until his capture in 2011. Bulger, whose criminal career allegedly got a boost from his status as a protected FBI informant, is being held without bail after pleading not guilty to all charges.
In other court action today, the prosecution and defense jousted over defense claims that a former Bulger henchman, John Martorano, who is one of the key prosecution witnesses, had returned to a life of crime and been protected by a state trooper from an investigation.
“The only thing that this can be called is a coverup,” defense attorney J.W. Carney Jr. said. He said the “blockbuster” information was relevant to Martorano’s credibility as a witness.
But a federal prosecutor shot back that no crimes had been committed and there was no coverup.
“Mr. Carney will stand up and say anything for a headline,” said Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak. “That’s fantasy. It’s just fiction. It did not happen.”
Carney sought a delay in the trial’s opening statements, which had been tentatively slated for Wednesday, to Monday, saying he wanted to investigate the allegations against the trooper.
US District Judge Denise J. Casper took the matter under advisement.
The search for the Bulger jurors has been the largest such search in the US District Court’s history. Some 800 people were asked to fill out questionnaires in the first step. A subset of that group was interviewed by both parties and the judge today in the court procedure known as voir dire.
Bulger, who has insisted he was not an FBI informant, appeared in court wearing a hunter green shirt, jeans and glasses.
This morning, Casper ruled that Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr can cover the trial. She had ruled last week that veteran Globe journalists Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy could cover it. All three were on Bulger’s defense witness list and Bulger’s attorneys had sought to have them excluded from the courtroom.
The story of Bulger, who allegedly rose to become a crime boss with the help of corrupt FBI agents at the same time that his brother, William M. Bulger, ascended in the political world to become president of the state Senate and president of the University of Massachusetts has inspired numerous books, TV shows, and movies.
Follow Boston Globe coverage of the trial on the boston.com live blog.