Jury selection begins in Whitey Bulger trial: Who can be picked?

Some 225 people took part in the jury selection process Tuesday morning, with more pools to follow. There will be 12 jurors and six alternates for the Whitey Bulger trial.

Jane Flavell Collins/AP
A courtroom sketch depicts James 'Whitey' Bulger (c.) during a pretrial conference before US District Judge Denise Casper, (l. rear) in a federal courtroom in Boston Monday. Jury selection begins Tuesday for Bulger's trial.

The difficult process of jury selection for the Whitey Bulger trial began Tuesday, with 225 people showing up for potential roles in deciding the guilt or innocence of the reputed gangster.

Judge Denise Casper said a fair trial won’t depend on whether jurors have heard about Mr. Bulger in media reports about his alleged crimes or his arrest after years as a fugitive.

Rather, the US district judge said the vital issue will be the ability of jurors to set aside what they’ve heard or read and to focus impartially on the evidence and the law as presented in the Boston courtroom.

James “Whitey” Bulger is accused of 19 murders, extortion, and other crimes in the high-profile federal case. He earned a reputation in Boston as a powerful boss of organized crime, at a time when he was also serving in the controversial role of secret informant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Details on all this and more will be explored in what’s expected to be a months-long trial – but it can go forward only after 12 jurors and six alternates are found.

That won’t be easy. Judge Casper has set aside four full days for selecting a group that represents an impartial cross section of the community. The first pool of 225, arriving Tuesday morning, was to be followed by additional 225-person pools on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, The Associated Press reported.

The pools will be winnowed first by their answers to lengthy questionnaires, then by questioning in the courtroom later this week.

The jurors’ names will not be made public until after the verdict, Casper said.

On Monday, the judge heard a collection of pretrial motions from prosecutors and defense attorneys, arguing over what evidence will appear.

Casper ruled that Bulger's FBI informant file can be admitted as evidence during the trial. Both sides agreed to this, although they appear set to differ during the trial over what Bulger’s “informant” relationship with the FBI meant.

The judge also agreed to let family members of murder victims testify regarding basic facts. Prosecutors said they hope to call roughly one family member for each of 19 murder victims, and they pledged not to seek to make the trial a “sentencing hearing” by having victims describe their emotional pain.

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