WBUR

Former U.S. Prosecutor ‘Skeptical’ Of Bulger Immunity Claim

BOSTON — The defense team for reputed Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger has roiled the legal waters again.

It is seeking to have the 19 murder charges Bulger faces dismissed, claiming that Bulger years ago was promised immunity by law enforcement when he became an FBI informant.

But Allison Burroughs, a former federal prosecutor and a partner at the law firm Nutter McClennen & Fish LLP, told WBUR that she thinks it’s “unlikely” that Bulger has an immunity agreement that would get charges dismissed.

“I read over the papers in this case and [Bulger lawyer J.W.] Carney doesn’t suggest or state that there’s a written immunity agreement, so he’s talking about an oral agreement, I would think,” Burroughs said in a Morning Edition interview. “Immunity agreements are almost always in writing. They generally only cover crimes that the defendant or criminal has disclosed to the government. They’re never prospective in nature, which this one would have to be given the date of the alleged immunity agreement and when the murders were committed. And there’s almost always a carve-out for violence in immunity agreements.

“So I am skeptical that there’s an agreement that says what he claims it will say.”

Burroughs said she doesn’t know of any precedent of informants getting charges dismissed due to immunity, but “it wouldn’t surprise me.”

If the charges aren’t dismissed, Burroughs said she’s not sure if there’s another motivation behind the defense team’s move, such as an attempt to further embarrass the government in a case with allegations of government misconduct.

“Carney is not the kind of defense lawyer to pursue something just to embarrass law enforcement,” she said. “He is an ardent believer in his causes, but he is very respectful of the system.”

The Bulger defense is also asking the trial judge, Richard Stearns, to recuse himself because of his role as a former federal prosecutor.

Burroughs also called that effort unlikely to work.

“Stearns was in the U.S. Attorney’s Office from 1982-90,” she said. “The Organized Crime and Racketeering Strike Force functioned extremely independently from the U.S. Attorney’s Office until early 1990, so it’s very unlikely that Judge Stearns had any role in supervising or managing these cases.

“So as a grounds for recusal what that leaves is Judge Stearns’ finding that there is a perception that because of his role in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, his ability to be fair and impartial is somehow compromised. I would guess that it’s unlikely.”

On Monday, a federal judge did grant Carney’s request to delay the trial’s start. It is now slated to begin March 4, 2013.

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