Whitey Bulger trial: Are underworld figures reliable witnesses? (+video)
Stephen 'The Rifleman' Flemmi, James 'Whitey' Bulger’s former crime partner, is spending days in the witness chair, pitting one less-than-reputable character against another.
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He said the food was bad (“I lost 35 pounds”), there was nothing much to do (no TV, radio, and “they didn't provide any books either”), and he spent most of each day locked up without contact with other people.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Sentenced! James 'Whitey' Bulger
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When he did see other inmates, they often hurled insults at him, Flemmi acknowledged under questioning by Mr. Brennan.
And “the phone was always broken,” Flemmi said, so it was hard to contact his attorney or family members.
By Flemmi’s account, the desire to escape those conditions affected his interest in becoming a cooperating witness, but didn’t prompt him to lie.
Brennan tried to chip away at that proposition, citing numerous instances in which Flemmi has given differing accounts of certain events in legal proceedings over the past decade.
The goal is to raise “reasonable doubt” about Bulger’s guilt in jurors’ minds.
A challenge for the defense, of course, is that casting doubt on Flemmi’s credibility isn’t the same as causing jurors to toss aside his word entirely. (Flemmi avoided the death penalty, and is serving a life sentence.)
Moreover, some key evidence at the trial comes from sources that are things rather than people: the illicit guns and some $800,000 in cash found in the California apartment where Bulger was apprehended.
After the court’s regular session concluded on Wednesday, Judge Denise Casper heard from the attorneys on both sides regarding the next stage of the trial.
One conclusion that emerged from the back-and-forth: The defense-side witness list is arranged to keep boring in on the same theme: calling into question the reliability of prosecution testimony, as opposed to emphasizing evidence designed to prove Bulger’s innocence.
Prosecutors with the US Department of Justice hope to have Judge Casper exclude some of the defense witnesses, on the grounds that their testimony is merely peripheral. It relates to the witnesses but not directly about Bulger’s case, the attorneys argue.
Assistant US Attorney Brian Kelly also complained about the Bulger team’s efforts to combat the idea that their client was an informant, despite a voluminous FBI file to the contrary.
Bulger’s lawyers want to call witnesses to show that corrupt FBI agents sometimes lifted words from reports on other informants, and put it in Bulger’s file.
Prosecutors say this, too, is peripheral to the case.
“Being an informant is not a crime,” Kelly told the judge. He asserted that the defense attorneys are trying to waste time and confuse the jury.