James 'Whitey' Bulger appeals 2013 conviction, claims 'lifetime immunity'

James 'Whitey' Bulger argues his conviction on charges of murder and other crimes was unfair, because the judge did not allow the jury to hear his assertion that the FBI had granted him lifetime immunity in exchange for information.

Jane Flavell Collins/AP
In this courtroom sketch, James 'Whitey' Bulger sits at his sentencing hearing in federal court in Boston, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013. Mr. Bulger's attorneys filed an appeal on August 15.

Lawyers for the infamous Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger filed an appeal Thursday to overturn the sweeping 2013 conviction on charges linking him to 11 murders in the 1970s and '80s.

Mr. Bulger’s attorneys argued that the US district judge presiding over the case violated the defendant’s constitutional rights by refusing to allow him to testify that a now-deceased federal prosecutor, Jeremiah O’Sullivan, had verbally granted him lifetime immunity in exchange for information about the rival New England mafia.

“That ruling constitutionally deprived Mr. Bulger of his right to present an effective defense to the government’s indictments, respond to the issues … and stripped him of his right to testify about how he was able to avoid prosecution for almost twenty-five years,” the lawyers wrote.

Judge Denise Casper barred any reference to that claim of immunity prior to the start of the trial and maintained that Mr. O’Sullivan never had the authority to grant such immunity.

Lawyers Henry Brennan and James Budreau further charged that the judge prevented them from raising doubts about the testimony of three key witnesses who had been granted plea deals in exchange for testifying against Bulger.

“If Mr. Bulger had been permitted to testify about his immunity defense in his own words, then the jury would have the opportunity to weigh his credibility with that of the government’s witnesses.… His testimony alone could have made the difference in the verdict,” the attorneys wrote.

Jurors found Bulger guilty of 31 of 32 counts including racketeering, money laundering, extortion, and firearms violations, in addition to the murders of 11 people. Sentenced in August 2013, he is currently serving two consecutive life sentences plus five years for those crimes at a federal penitentiary in Tucson.

Bulger terrorized South Boston from the helm of the “Winter Hill” crime gang for decades before fleeing the area in 1994, after a corrupt FBI agent tipped him off to an impending arrest. He and his girlfriend, Catherine Grieg, spent 16 years on the lam before authorities captured them in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011.

“The scope of the callousness, the depravity of the crimes is almost unfathomable,” Judge Casper said during sentencing in November, the Monitor reported. “The testimony of human suffering you and your associates inflicted on others ... was agonizing to hear and painful to watch.”                                                                                 

Whitey Bulger’s story inspired the 2006 Martin Scorsese film, “The Departed,” and a forthcoming biopic “Black Mass,” starring Johnny Depp and slated for release in September 2015.

This report includes material from the Associated press and Reuters.

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