James 'Whitey' Bulger Trial: Judges Assign Taxpayer-Funded Defense, Drop Racketeering Charges

Will Whitey Bulger Sing?
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Notorious fugitive James "Whitey" Bulger, captured last week as authorities seized $822,000 cash hidden in the walls of his rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica, Calif., has been assigned taxpayer-financed lawyers to defend himself against 19 murder charges.

After Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler in Boston ruled that the alleged former South Boston mob boss is entitled to taxpayer-funded counsel, attorneys J.W. Carney and his law partner, Janice Bassil, were appointed to represent Bulger, 81, who eluded capture as a fugitive for 16 years.

"I find at this time that the defendant is unable to retain counsel," Bowler said, adding there will be a review down the road to determine if Bulger should repay those attorney fees.

Bowler's ruling came after U.S. District Chief Judge Mark Wolf ruled that the 1994 indictment on racketeering charges against the alleged former South Boston mob boss can be dismissed as the government requested, allowing federal law enforcement to focus its case against Bulger on 19 murder charges.

"It is in the public interest that this case be dismissed," Wolf said.

The issue of just who was going to represent Bulger and how the lawyers were going to be paid sparked outrage among Bulger's victims. Bulger himself taunted Judge Bowler last week when he said he could fund his own defense if the feds just gave back his $822,000.

However, legal observers, including Boston defense attorney Anthony Cardinale, said Bowler's ruling made sense.

"He has said he doesn't have enough money to pay for a lawyer," Cardinale told ABCNews.com. "It's as simple as that. And this is the kind of case that requires a lawyer with very specific qualifications and abilities and manpower. ... The guy deserves the best defense that can be given to him, even though he is a monster. Now, if his financial statement later turns out to be false and he does have money hidden around, well, then he could be charged with perjury. But that's the least of his problems."

Cardinale also has a legal interest in the money found in Bulger's apartment. He has won a lien against the funds on behalf of a client, Julie Dammers.

Dammers and her ex-husband, Stephen Rakes, won a multimillion-dollar judgment against Bulger because the couple said they were forced at gunpoint to sell their South Boston liquor store to Bulger and his associates.

Government officials have seized the stashed cash and will claim "forfeiture rights." Cardinale said he intends to fight that claim.

Lawyers Carney and Bassil are perhaps best known for representing John Salvi, who killed several people when he shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic in Boston in 1994.

Bulger arrived at the courthouse today wearing his now-familiar orange jumpsuit. He was flown from jail to Logan Airport in a government helicopter and then a U.S. Marshal's motorcade drove him to the federal courthouse on Boston's waterfront.

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