Margaret Small / AP
This courtroom sketch depicts James "Whitey" Bulger at the beginning of jury selection for his trial in U.S. District Court in Boston.
For four days, James “Whitey” Bulger had to sit there and take it.
His former Winter Hill Gang partner Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi portrayed him in ways he must have despised.
A man who strangled two women with his bare hands and left others to bury them while he rested.
A government informant who dished dirt on other gangsters but marked suspected stool pigeons for death.
Dept. of Justice via Reuters
Former mob boss and fugitive James "Whitey" Bulger was arrested in Santa Monica, Calif., on June 22, 2011 along with his longtime girlfriend Catherine Greig,
And, in an unexpected turn of testimony Tuesday, a dirty old man with a 16-year-old girlfriend.
"You want to talk about pedophilia, right over there at that table," Flemmi said, pointing a finger at Bulger in the Boston courtroom during a withering cross-examination about his own sex life.
Bulger’s defense has made it clear he does not want to be known as a rat or someone who preyed on women, and there has been speculation that he would attempt to tell his side of the story.
But after a ruling Tuesday by the judge presiding over the federal racketeering and murder trial, several legal experts said it would be shocking if Bulger took the stand.
“He probably has nothing to lose, but he also has nothing to gain,” said Boston defense lawyer Harvey Silverglate, who has been closing following the riveting and often gruesome testimony.
Bulger, 83, who skipped town in 1994 after a tip from a corrupt FBI agent and spent 16 years on the lam, had hoped to mount an immunity defense.
He planned take the oath and argue that law enforcement he had bought off inoculated him against prosecution for his alleged crimes – which prosecutors say include 19 murders.
Federal Judge Denise Casper ruled before the trial that he couldn’t use the immunity defense, and when Bulger’s lawyers tried to resurrect it on Tuesday, she reaffirmed her decision.
And that, some legal experts say, makes it unlikely he will take the stand to rebut a string of former confederates who cut deals with prosecutors to testify against him.
“He would never put himself in a position where he lost that much control,” said Anthony Cardinale, another Boston defense lawyer.
“I don’t think he can get on the stand and admit to 17 of 19 murders and think that is going to get him somewhere with the jury.”
Some courthouse observers have predicted Bulger will testify, even if only to deliver a score-settling diatribe against his ex-cronies.
But Michael Coyne, associate dean of the Massachusetts School of Law, said without the chance to convince a jury his misdeeds were green-lighted by the feds, Bulger would be a fool to subject himself to a “brutal cross-examination.”
His only prayer, Coyne said, is that the jury finds the government witnesses so despicable and the tales of FBI corruption so troubling that one of them refuses to convict.
“A deadlocked jury is a win for the defendant in this case,” he said.
The defense – which described Bulger in opening statements as a criminal but not a kingpin -- has chiseled away at the credibility of the government’s star witnesses, highlighting blood on their hands and ice in their veins.
This week, Flemmi had to recount how he lured girlfriend, Debra Davis, and his longtime lover’s daughter, Debra Hussey, both 26, to their deaths.
The jury will be hard-pressed to forget Tuesday’s exchange in which defense lawyer Henry Brennan pressed Flemmi to specify how many of Hussey’s teeth he yanked out with pliers after she was dead so she couldn’t be identified.
The defense could start presenting its case in a few days. Legal analysts say the names of the witness list suggest Bulger’s team will be underscoring corruption at the FBI.
Unless the defense has a surprise up its sleeve, they said, the case is the prosecution’s to lose, leaving Bulger to appeal on the grounds the judge erred in excluding an immunity claim.
Either way, he still faces possible death-penalty murder cases in Oklahoma and Florida.
“He knows he’s never going to see the light of day,” Coyne said.
Death of would-be Bulger witness raises questions
'I'll take care of it': Bulger strangled Boston woman, ex-crony testifies
Bulger's ex-partner lobs pedophilia claim in court
First published July 24 2013, 4:39 AM