8:34 am
Mon June 3, 2013

What to Expect From Day One of the Trial of Whitey Bulger

Two FBI handout photos of mobster James Whitey Bulger taken in the 1980s.
Credit FBI handouts / AP

Today begins what some in Boston are calling the trial of the century: The long-awaited prosecution of James "Whitey" Bulger.

Today begins what some in Boston are calling the trial of the century: The long-awaited prosecution of James "Whitey" Bulger.

The South Boston gangster is accused of murdering or ordering the murders of 19 people during a crime reign spanning several decades. But for the next two days the drama of this story will give way to pre-trial motions, procedures and legal minutia.

The final touches of a long series of pre-trial issues are now being resolved. Earlier, both sides fought over an attempt by Bulger to claim immunity as a defense in his trial. Judge Denise Casper didn’t buy it.

Now the defense is trying another pre-trial strategy: Limit the testimony of victim's families, for fear that it will prejudice jurors. The defense argues victims’ families’ testimony should be limited to basic facts.

But Stephen Rakes says he has been waiting for this day for a long time. He alleges his liquor store in South Boston was taken from him in 1983 by Bulger and his associate Steven "The Rifleman" Flemmi.

"Back in 1983, Bulger and Flemmi took my liquor store from me," he said. "At the time, I was scared to death. I was afraid for myself being murdered, my family. And I've never had the opportunity to face the man again, and I will shortly."

Rakes over the summer will be called to testify against the man who he says stole his livelihood and he says he has a lot to say.

"I am prepared, I have been told I will be called as a witness," he said. "It's an opportunity for me to speak up. I haven't spoken up in 30 years and now I want to let them hear what I have to say."

Judge Denise Casper will rule on the defense motion to limit victims' families' testimonies. The witness list also includes Steven Davis. He says his sister Debra was murdered by Bulger’s associates.

"That was a statement she had told a few of the brothers one time that if she was ever missing, he had something to do with it," Davis said. "She turned up missing."

Bulger defense lawyers are also asking Judge Casper to jettison the the phrase “The Bulger Group” because they argue it assumes that Bulger was individually responsible for the acts committed by other organized crime figures.

Prosecutors plan to also call a motley crew of ex-Bulger gang members to the stand, including, Flemmi, who is currently serving a life sentence for 10 murders, former hitman John Martorano, who has admitted to killing 20 people, and Kevin Weeks, who told authorities where many of the bodies were buried. Defense attorneys argue that they should be allowed to point out FBI and U.S. prosecutors’ “hypocrisy” for using convicted killers once described as untrustworthy.

The next step: jury selection, which begins tomorrow. A pool of 300 to 500 potential jurors will be interviewed this week. It will be arduous for both sides, but the defense really has its work cut out for it in locating unbiased jurors. Whitey Bulger is a household name in Boston and throughout New England, and the defense will try to find individuals who have not made up their minds about the region's most notorious gangster.