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Victims’ Families To Speak At Bulger’s Sentencing

BOSTON — Convicted mobster James “Whitey” Bulger will be sentenced this week in federal court in Boston. Though there is little suspense surrounding how much time he will likely receive, there is sure to be plenty of drama.

Families of his murder victims have a chance to address the court before Bulger himself, who riddled the courtroom with expletives earlier in the trial, also has an opportunity to comment.

WBUR reporter David Boeri, whose new e-book on the trial is available for download, joined Morning Edition to preview the week’s events.

Bob Oakes: What do we expect this week?

David Boeri: The proceedings on the first day go through the federal sentencing guidelines. But this is really an empty gesture because the two racketeering counts that he was convicted of alone carry sentences of life in prison. So he’s going away, and he’s going away for life. But what is dramatic here is the victims’ families will have the chance to address the court, and through the court they will be talking to Bulger.

We already got a sense of the anger of these families when Bulger’s longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig, was sentenced for harboring a fugitive. So I gather you’re expecting more of that this week

Yes and it’s going to be interesting to see how Bulger himself reacts. Because there’s no indication from this trial that he’s going to be as stoic as his girlfriend. When they lashed out at her she was cold and silent. But Bulger is the wild card here. We remember those hissing outbursts of expletives at his former associates in the middle of the courtroom. And I do not expect he’s going to take kindly to anybody lashing out at him.

And when Bulger is sentenced he gets an opportunity to say something.

Before he is sentenced, he has the opportunity — as every defendant does — to speak. And this too is going to be a very dramatic moment because it’s probably going to be the last chance for Bulger to speak to the public in his life.

Do you think he will continue to maintain his innocence when it comes to the murders of women?

Absolutely. You don’t get into the “hall of fame” for career criminals by killing women. He’s insisted he never did and he’s going to take that to his grave.

Bulger’s time in court is drawing to a close but there are plenty of unanswered questions in this case.

One of the big fights now is over the $820,000 federal agents seized from Bulger’s apartment in California, which could go to victims’ families — something Bulger himself mentioned in his trial. The U.S. attorney says it’s always their interest to give the money to the victims’ families and they’ve proposed that each family get $40,000, but they have a take it or leave it offer on the table*.

Now you have one of the lawyers for the victims coming forward saying the government and U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz cannot be trusted to deal fairly with those families. Here’s the attorney, Michael Heineman:

The U.S. Attorney’s Office, before Bulger was arrested, fought these victims at every turn. They fought them in pre-trial filings, that the cases should be dismissed because they were brought too late. They then fought them at trials, and when they lost them at trials they appealed them. And at each and every turn, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, “No, victims, you get nothing.”

All during the trial you were questioning whether we were seeing a comprehensive case and you go into that in your new e-book.

For me, all along the question has been: Why was Bulger allowed to grow into an old man when there was a warrant for his arrest when he was 65? Why, when he was 49, was he allowed to slip an indictment? This goes right the heart of the matter, which is Bulger alone could never have done what he did without the help of FBI agents. This is the story of a guy who could have been crushed but was turned into a giant by the federal government. That’s why the subtitle of the book is “Boston’s most notorious gangster and the pursuit of justice.”

Do you think this case will ever be closed out in a way that we get all the answers and in a way that the victims’ families are ever completely satisfied?

This is the tragedy of that trial. Because you had a trial here that was an opportunity to have full accounting, to have all the evidence put on the table, to have the second ring of that trial — involving those people who had enabled and empowered him. That didn’t happen. So at the end of the day at this trial the tragedy is the U.S. attorney and the new head of the FBI here say it’s a new day. Well, it may be a new day, but they’re still trying to sell the same old bridge.

David Boeri’s new e-book, “Bulger On Trial: Boston’s Most Notorious Gangster and the Pursuit of Justice,” is the first book to explore last summer’s trial in depth from the perspective of a reporter who’s covered the story for years. Download it here.

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, WBUR reported that “the very first person who suggested that any of that money go to the victims was Bulger himself.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly states that our reporting was incorrect. He said, in a statement: “In fact, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has stated in court on several occasions that the money seized from his California apartment be divided among the victims’ families. Our position was never prompted by any statements by Bulger himself.” WBUR regrets the error.

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  • Linda MacDonald

    I think that Bulger doesn’t care what the families think. They would be better off gathering as a group to mourn rather than giving him more air time.

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