BOSTON – A lawyer for mobster James "Whitey" Bulger asked a judge Thursday to delay his trial by eight months, while a prosecutor argued that Bulger has already received "a 16-year continuance" by fleeing Boston and staying on the run all those years.
U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns didn't immediately rule on the defense request to move the trial from March until next November. Stearns said he expects to issue a written decision within the next few days.
Bulger, the former leader of the Winter Hill Gang, is accused of playing a role in 19 murders during the 1970s and 1980s. His lawyer has said Bulger plans to testify about his claim that he received immunity to commit crimes while he was an FBI informant on the Mafia. Bulger, now 83, fled Boston in late 1994 and was not captured until June 2011, when he was found in Santa Monica, Calif.
Bulger's lead attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., has repeatedly complained about the large volume of materials he needs to review before the trial, including more than 364,000 pages of documents turned over by prosecutors.
"We cannot possibly be ready to start the trial in March," Carney said Thursday. He said it is critical for the defense to be fully prepared in order for Bulger to receive a fair trial.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly said prosecutors are opposed to the delay and accused Bulger of "continually trying to stall this case."
Stearns has twice rejected a defense request that he recuse himself from Bulger's trial.
Bulger's lawyers say Stearns should not preside at the trial because he was a federal prosecutor during a time in which Bulger claims he was given immunity for crimes he committed while he was also an FBI informant on the Mafia, his gang's main rival.
In a written response denying Carney's motion for the second time, Stearns said there is no connection between his former position as chief of the criminal division of the U.S. attorney's office and the organized crime strike force.
Bulger claims that Jeremiah O'Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor who led the New England Organized Crime Strike Force, gave him immunity. O'Sullivan, who died in 2009, denied protecting Bulger from prosecution for violent crimes during his testimony to Congress in 2002.
In a written response filed in court Wednesday, Kelly called Bulger's immunity claim "absurd" and said his decision to flee Massachusetts is "entirely inconsistent" with someone who believed he had immunity.
"Obviously, James Bulger never once thought he had legal immunity for his crimes and that is why he remained a fugitive for so long," Kelly wrote.