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Earlier Bulger charges dropped

Murder case set; lawyer appointed

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By Shelley Murphy and Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / July 1, 2011

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A federal judge granted a request by prosecutors yesterday to dismiss racketeering charges brought against James “Whitey’’ Bulger in 1995, saying it was “very much in the public interest’’ that the 81-year-old stand trial in a later case charging him with 19 murders.

Also yesterday, Bulger - who had $822,198 when he was captured last week in Santa Monica, Calif., after 16 years on the run - was given a taxpayer-funded lawyer to represent him in the ongoing case, based on his statement that he cannot afford to hire one.

“Our Constitution guarantees every defendant the right to a fair trial, and we’re going to see that he gets it,’’ said Boston attorney J.W. Carney Jr., who met briefly with Bulger in a lockup at US District Court after being appointed to represent him. “He’s pleased the issue of counsel has been settled.’’

Bulger, who is being held at the Plymouth County House of Correction, arrived at the waterfront courthouse amid much fanfare as he was first flown in a US Coast Guard Jayhawk MH-60 helicopter to Logan International Airport. He was then put in a black sport utility vehicle and escorted to the federal courthouse in a convoy of deputy US marshals.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Luke Clayton said the estimated cost for an hour’s worth of flight time by the helicopter is $13,880. He said it was unclear how long the helicopter was used during yesterday’s operation, but estimated it was about an hour.

“I thought it was disgusting,’’ said Thomas Donahue, a recently laid-off electrician from Dorchester whose father, Michael, an innocent bystander, was allegedly gunned down by Bulger in 1982. “So far he’s been in a Learjet and a helicopter. I’ve been in neither one.’’

The brother of another one of Bulger’s alleged victims protested loudly when court officers allowed Bulger’s two brothers, former Massachusetts Senate president William M. Bulger and John Bulger, to enter the courtroom before anyone else, including the families of alleged victims.

“I don’t give a [expletive] if he [William] was president of the United States,’’ shouted Steven Davis, whose 26-year-old sister, Debra Davis, was allegedly strangled by Bulger in 1981 and dumped in a watery grave by the Neponset River in Quincy. “They had no business putting him in front of the victims’ families.’’

Moments later, the families were called into the courtroom, where rows had been reserved for them.

Dressed in a bright orange prison suit and shackled, Bulger was escorted into US District Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf’s courtroom minutes before 1 p.m. He smiled briefly and winked at his brothers, seated in the front row.

Bulger lost the first legal battle in what is expected to be protracted proceedings when Wolf refused his request to consolidate two racketeering indictments that were brought against him in 1995 and 2000.

Wolf granted the prosecution’s request to dismiss the older case, rejecting a defense argument that prosecutors were “judge shopping’’ to avoid a trial before him.

Wolf, who presided over the older case against Bulger and six other men and held hearings that exposed the reputed gangster’s corrupt relationship with the FBI, said the bureau’s failure to tell prosecutors that Bulger was a longtime informant until the day before he was charged in 1995 left them with a “fundamentally flawed’’ case. Bulger and Stephen “The Rifleman’’ Flemmi, also an informant, were charged in the 1995 case with plotting with Francis “Cadillac Frank’’ Salemme, then the boss of the New England mob, to extort money from bookmakers, drug dealers, and loansharks.

When that case appeared in jeopardy, prosecutors launched a new investigation that led to charges in 2000 alleging Bulger was involved in 19 murders. Several of the victims were allegedly killed after corrupt agents warned Bulger the victims were cooperating against him.

“I have found many things about this case to be profoundly disturbing and dispiriting,’’ Wolf said yesterday, repeating remarks he made years ago when addressing Flemmi, now serving a life sentence for 10 slayings. “My role in this case has essentially ended. I trust, however, that the dedication of the public to demanding law enforcement that is fair as well as effective, even when dealing with the most dangerous crimes and criminals, will endure.’’

An hour later, Bulger appeared before US Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler, who found he was eligible for a court-appointed lawyer to represent him on the racketeering and murder charges, based on a sealed financial affidavit he filed. She appointed Carney and said she will probably appoint his partner, attorney Janice Bassil, as cocounsel.

Prosecutors argued that William Bulger should be questioned about his ability to pay for his brother’s lawyer. They pointed out that after Whitey Bulger was arrested June 22 with his girlfriend, Catherine Greig, he told California court officials that his brother, William, might post bail for Greig, 60. She is charged with harboring a fugitive in allegedly helping Bulger evade capture and faces up to five years in prison. But Bowler said defendants’ family members are not responsible for their legal bills.

“The argument that Mr. Bulger has an obligation to deliver up money from his family, distant or close, is as far as I know without any legal support whatsoever,’’ Bowler said.

On his way out of the courtroom, Carney said, “I limit my practice to the innocent.’’

Donahue said he was not surprised that Bulger’s legal bills would be paid from public funds.

“The taxpayers are going to get screwed one way or the other,’’ he said. “Either it’s going to come from blood money, from the money that he had, or the taxpayers.’’

As Bulger was led away in shackles, Steven Davis began clapping loudly and was quickly chastised by a court officer.

Donahue said he understood why Davis became emotional. The families have waited years for some justice, he said.

“It’s a long process,’’ Donahue said. “We have a long road ahead of us, but we’re closer than we’ve ever been before.’’

Bulger is due back in court Wednesday to be arraigned on the racketeering indictment charging him with the murders.

Maria Cramer of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Shelley Murphy can be reached at shmurphy@globe.com; Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.