BOSTON (AP) — An attorney for James “Whitey” Bulger argued Wednesday that the government should expose the identity of a confidential informant he believes could undermine two star witnesses against the reputed gangster.
During a pretrial hearing Wednesday, attorney Hank Brennan said providing the informant’s name is critical to determining the credibility of John Martorano, an ex-hitman, and Kevin Weeks, Bulger’s former top lieutenant. Both are set to testify against Bulger during his trial for allegedly participating in 19 murders, which begins next month.
The defense claims in court papers that the informant, who was referenced in an FBI report from 2000, said Weeks and Martorano assured certain people they wouldn’t implicate them when they talked to law enforcement.
It’s a tactic the government has allowed its witnesses to use in the past, Brennan told U.S. District Judge Denise Casper on Wednesday, citing a 1965 murder for which four men were imprisoned after being wrongly accused by a mobster the FBI knew was lying in order to shield friends.
In remarks outside court, Brennan said the defense wanted to find out if that was happening again.
“There is no stronger motivation to lie, for somebody, than to protect themselves and protect their friends,” he said.
But prosecutors told Casper that the informant was just passing on chatter, not firsthand information.
“What we’re opposed to is exposing an informant who simply reports street talk,” said prosecutor Brian Kelly.
Casper didn’t rule on the issue Wednesday.
After court, Tommy Donahue whose father was allegedly shot to death by Bulger in 1982, said he was disgusted by the “sweet deal” the government gave Martorano and Weeks in exchange for testimony. But he said he didn’t think Bulger was being falsely accused by government witnesses.
“That old man that you see in there is an absolute animal, he’s a demon in disguise,” he said. “His heart, he’s soulless. And everything he’s accused of, he’s done.”
Bulger, who is allegedly a former FBI informant, fled in 1995 after being tipped about a coming indictment from his FBI handler. He was captured in California in 2011.
In court Wednesday, Bulger was clean shaven and wore glasses and a white long-sleeved T-shirt under his orange prison jumpsuit. He didn’t speak except to answer, “Good afternoon,” when Casper greeted him, and he was led to and from the courtroom with his hands cuffed behind his back.
Jury selection, from a pool starting at 675, is scheduled to start June 4 and the trial is expected to last three months. Prosecutors said Wednesday that their witness list has grown to near 70 and they expect to present 900 to 1,000 exhibits.
Prosecutors want potential jurors to undergo criminal background checks, which Brennan argued was unusual and offensive.
“A citizen’s word when they come before the court should be enough,” he told Casper.
But prosecutor Zachary Hafer said the checks were a needed step to ensure jurors were legally eligible to serve and to avoid problems that could eventually threaten the integrity of the trial.
“It’s doubly important we get it right the first time,” he said.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.