After pleading not guilty to 19 charges of murder and to multiple charges of racketeering, money laundering and extortion, James “Whitey” Bulger sat before a jury of his peers for the first time Wednesday at the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in South Boston.
Judge Denise Casper, who is presiding over the trial, addressed jurors and reminded them to remain objective and to refrain from discussing the trial until after a verdict is reached. Assistant U.S. Attorney General Brian Kelly, a prosecuting attorney representing the U.S. government, then gave his opening statement.
“It is a case about organized crime, public corruption and all sorts of illegal activities,” Kelly said. “… It’s about a criminal enterprise that ran amuck in the city of Boston for almost 30 years. You’ll hear about crimes in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. At the center of this mayhem is one man —the defendant in this case, James Bulger.”
Kelly said the South Boston native, 83, used intimidation to make “millions and millions” of dollars off local bookkeepers, drug dealers and businesspeople before he fled Boston in 1994.
“Part of their [Bulger’s and his partners’] success was due to their fearsome reputation and that other criminals were afraid of them,” he said. “Other criminals would rather pay them off than argue with them or fight with them. That’s what’s known as extortion — when people are forced to pay money due to threats or fear of harm.”
Kelly said Bulger killed at least three individuals, including Debra Davis, in a house located at 799 East 3rd St. in South Boston.
J.W. Carney, Jr., the defense attorney representing Bulger, said Bulger did not murder Davis. He said she was instead murdered by one of Bulger’s associates, Stephen Flemmi.
“Debby Davis was Stevie Flemmi’s girlfriend for years,” he said. “He was much older than she was and he was extremely generous to her and her family. He was very proud that Davis was his girlfriend. Then, he learned that she was cheating on him … Stevie Flemmi, the evidence will show, decided to kill her. Stevie Flemmi said, ‘I strangled her.’”
Carney said Flemmi also murdered Deborah Hussey, another one of Bulger’s alleged victims. Hussey was Flemmi’s stepdaughter.
Addressing a major point of controversy in Bulger’s case, Carney said Bulger was never an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. However, Carney said Bulger did pay several law enforcement officials over the years in return for information on wiretaps, searches and indictments.
Kelly said many people once associated with Bulger will testify against him over the course of the trial and will supply evidence to prove Bulger’s guilt.
While Carney admitted Bulger did lead a life of crime, he said Bulger is not responsible for much of which he is accused and jurors should be wary of testimony by Flemmi and ex-henchmen John Martorano and Kevin Weeks.
“Given these three individuals, given their backgrounds, given their character — if that was all you knew — would you believe them beyond a reasonable doubt?” Carney asked the jury.
The trial is set to continue Thursday morning and for months to come.