Will notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger testify in his own defense? The answer is still unclear.
Bulger’s defense team disclosed today more of the witnesses they will call in the coming days, but did not tell a federal judge whether Bulger will testify.
“That may not be the limit to the defense,” said defense attorney Jay W. Carney after talking about the other witnesses.
US District Court Judge Denise Casper is presiding over the racketeering trial of Bulger in federal court on Boston’s waterfront.
Bulger’s attorneys said before the trial that he planned to testfy. But as the trial has worn on for weeks, there has been no further word on Bulger’s plans.
Assistant US Attorney Fred Wyshak told Judge Casper this morning that the government has a right to know if Bulger is going to testify. He asked if prosecutors will be asked to deliver closing arguments in the case Friday or to cross-examine Bulger.
“He’s had two months to make that decision,” he said.
Bulger, 83, is charged in a sweeping federal racketeering indictment with participating in 19 murders, extortion, money laundering, and stockpiling guns in the 1970s and 1980s. Prosecutors say he got away with his crimes for so long because he was protected by corrupt FBI handlers.
Prosecutors brought an extensive case against him in federal court in Boston, beginning in mid-June. The defense began calling its witnesses Monday. The defense case is expected to conclude within a few days.
Also today, Patrick Nee, a former associate of James “Whitey” Bulger who was called to testify in the gangster’s trial, was excused without being called to the stand. Nee, 68, sat in the back of the courtroom while his lawyer, Steven C. Boozang, approached in a sidebar — a private discussion — with the judge and the other lawyers in the case.
After a lengthy discussion, Casper excused Boozang from the proceedings. She did not announce any decision, and only told Bulger’s lawyer J.W. Carney Jr. that his objections during the sidebar would be preserved for the record. Nee left the courthouse and entered a black pickup truck that had pulled up in front, and he did not comment.
Nee had said all along through Boozang that he intended to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, even though Carney had said that he would ask questions that would not incriminate him.
Casper had said in an earlier proceeding that Nee could expose himself to possible charges if he were to testify.
Boozang said after today’s hearing that Bulger “failed at making a good faith showing that Mr. Nee did not have a valid Fifth Amendment privilege.”
“By Whitey continuing on a daily basis, witness by witness, attempting to inject Mr. Nee in the middle of his trial, he made it easy for us to show we had no other choice but to represent, as I did in my motion, that he would assert his privilege on each and every question other than his name and what town he lives in,” Boozang said.
Throughout Bulger’s trial, witnesses have repeatedly named Nee as an accomplice in some of Bulger’s alleged crimes, including murder. Nee has never been charged in those crimes.
Federal prosecutors say he could not be charged in Bulger’s initial 1995 indictment because none of Nee’s alleged crimes fell within the statute of limitations. However, Nee could still be charged in state court with murder, which is not governed by a statute of limitations.
State investigators say they examine the evidence they have in any murder investigation, but they could not comment about the testimony in the ongoing Bulger trial.
Several witnesses, including Bulger’s former partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi, have implicated Nee. Flemmi, for instance, said that Nee was the second gunman in Bulger’s car when they gunned down Edward “Brian” Halloran, who had been cooperating against Bulger. An innocent bystander, Michael Donahue, was also killed.
Nee and Bulger had a contentious relationship. Nee was a former member of a rival gang before Bulger emerged as a leader in the Winter Hill Gang, and they then became associates.
Nee has said that he never trusted Bulger. He also said in his book that he had tried to kill Bulger several times.
Boozang said previously that Nee wants “no part of the dog and pony show” and what he called “Whitey’s con.”
Nee served two prison terms for gunrunning and an attempted armored car heist. Since getting out in 2000, he has not shied away from the public eye. Nee has appeared at events for Marines and veterans, at fund-raisers, and holds court at a restaurant in South Boston. In a promotional video for his book, he dotes on his grandchildren and plays harmonica at the restaurant.
He is also set to be featured on “Saint Hoods,” a Discovery Channel reality show that will document three crews of Boston bookmakers. Nee is head of the largest crew, from South Boston, a role that some of Bulger’s alleged victims say will only glamorize an alleged accomplice to murder.