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Bulger’s murder charges pushed

Prosecutors ask dismissal of ’95 racketeering case

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By Shelley Murphy and Maria Cramer
Globe Staff / June 29, 2011

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Federal prosecutors moved yesterday to dismiss a 1995 racketeering indictment against James “Whitey’’ Bulger, saying they want to make sure the 81-year-old stands trial for the most serious charges, the slayings of 19 people.

“The 19 families of murder victims have been denied justice for many years because the defendant has successfully eluded law enforcement apprehension,’’ US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz wrote in the dismissal motion.

The evidence in the earlier case is weaker, two key witnesses have died, and prosecuting it would divert resources from the most serious case, Ortiz said. Another complication: Such a complex case could drag on for years.

“And given the age of the defendant, there is also a substantial public interest in ensuring that the defendant faces the most serious charges before the end of his natural life,’’ Ortiz wrote.

Bulger, who was chuckling and flippant during his initial court appearances in Los Angeles and Boston, appeared subdued yesterday. Dressed in a bright orange prison uniform, he shuffled into US District Court in Boston in leg irons with his shoulders stooped and his head lowered. He never spoke and did not look toward the spectator section, which was packed with reporters and relatives of his alleged victims. None of Bulger’s family members was there.

Thomas Donahue of Dorchester, whose father, Michael, was an innocent bystander allegedly gunned down by Bulger in 1982, said he wants to see Bulger stand trial for his father’s killing before he dies.

“If it was years ago, I wouldn’t want to drop anything,’’ Donahue said outside the courtroom yesterday. “But time is not on our side.’’

Boston attorney Peter Krupp, who represented Bulger during yesterday’s hearing, said it appeared the government was “forum shopping’’ and had selected the judge assigned to the murder case, rather than go to trial on the 1995 case before US District Chief Judge Mark Wolf.

Wolf said yesterday that Bulger may have some say in whether the earlier case is dismissed. He gave Bulger’s lawyer until this afternoon to file objections. The judge also ordered prosecutors to file an affidavit detailing what efforts they have made to investigate leaks to the media about the Bulger case.

Bulger is due in court tomorrow for a hearing on whether he is indigent and entitled to a lawyer at government expense.

Bulger’s girlfriend, Catherine Greig, 60, who was captured with him Wednesday at the Santa Monica apartment they shared for at least 15 years, was not in court yesterday. A hearing on whether she should be released on bail is set for July 11.

Brockton attorney Kevin Reddington, who represents Greig, described her as “a very nice woman’’ and strong person with great family support.

“I will be arguing she should be released,’’ Reddington said, adding that she could be fitted with a device to monitor her whereabouts. “At this point, I don’t believe she is a flight risk.’’

Bulger, a longtime FBI informant, fled just before Christmas 1994 after his former handler, John J. Connolly Jr., warned him that he was about to be indicted.

Bulger and his longtime sidekick, Stephen “The Rifleman’’ Flemmi, were indicted in January 1995, along with Francis “Cadillac Frank’’ Salemme, then boss of the New England Mafia, and four other men on racketeering and extortion charges. The trio were accused of running illegal rackets in Greater Boston and extorting money from bookmakers.

While Bulger, a fixture on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, was the target of a worldwide manhunt, Flemmi tried to get the case dismissed by revealing that he and Bulger were longtime FBI informants who provided the bureau with information about local Mafia leaders, including Salemme.

Flemmi contended that the FBI had authorized him and Bulger to commit crimes, though not murder. He also argued that their alliance was with the FBI, not with the Mafia as alleged in the indictment.

But Flemmi’s legal defense backfired. The case was not dismissed. And several of Bulger’s former associates began cooperating with investigators, leading them to secret graves of homicide victims.

That assistance led to the 2000 indictment charging Bulger with 19 murders. Flemmi pleaded guilty to participating in 10 of those slayings and is serving a life sentence.

Connolly finished a 10-year federal prison term yesterday for warning Bulger in December 1994 of his impending indictment. He has been sent to Florida to serve a 40-year prison term for orchestrating a 1982 slaying by warning Bulger and Flemmi that the victim was a potential witness against them.

Yesterday was the first time Steven Davis, brother of alleged Bulger murder victim Debra Davis, had seen the former mob boss since his arrest.

Davis, 53, said he was reluctant to come to the hearing because he feared he would lose his cool and lash out at Bulger as he did in 2003, when he screamed during a plea hearing for Flemmi, who admitted he lured Debra Davis to her death.

“I am the explosive type,’’ Steven Davis said. “I didn’t want to lose it.’’

In September 1981, Flemmi brought the 26-year-old Davis, his girlfriend of nine years, to his mother’s home in South Boston, where Bulger was waiting. Flemmi testified previously that he watched Bulger strangle her, then they buried her along the banks of the Neponset River in Quincy.

Yesterday, the packed courtroom went silent when Bulger was escorted in by deputy US marshals.

“You know the expression, ‘It’s so quiet you can hear a mouse?’ ’’ Steven Davis said after the hearing. “When he walked in, what went through my head was, ‘It’s so quiet you can hear this rat breathing.’ ’’

Davis described his sister as a giving person and showed the tattoos he had inked on his hands to honor her memory.

“The rage in me, I can deal with that,’’ Davis said, his voice cracking. “It’s what he did to her.’’

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com