Attorneys for notorious Boston underworld boss James "Whitey" Bulger ducked the question about whether the 83-year-old accused killer and racketeer will testify in his own defense as the trial nears its end.
Bulger's lawyer, J.W. Carney, told the court at a sidebar conference that he expects to call 15 witnesses to the stand, but added: "That may not be the limit to the defense."
Before Bulger's long-awaited trial began in a federal courtroom on June 6, Carney told reporters that he expected his client would take the stand. But in his opening statements Carney made no mention to the jury that they would hear from Bulger himself and he has been cagey about whether the geriatric gangster would face cross-examination from federal prosecutors.
"He's had two months to make that decision," said federal prosecutor Fred Wyshak, who told the judge proceeding over the trial that the government had a right to know if Bulger would take the stand.
In the weeks since the trial began, Bulger's primary defense has focused on maintaining his reputation by denying that he was a snitch for the FBI, rather than seeking an acquittal on charges that he conducted a decades-long crime spree that included 19 murders.
In opening arguments, Carney said his client "made millions upon millions upon millions" running drugs, gambling, extorting victims and other crimes. But Bulger's defense has told the court repeatedly since the trial began he was no rat. Bulger also denied killing two women, Debbie Davis and Deborah Hussey.
While Bulger was running the Winter Hill Gang, prosecutors charge, he was also a FBI informant trading information on Italian Mafiosi in exchange for protection from crooked FBI agents in the Boston field office. Bulger was referred to in FBI paperwork as BS 1544-TE with the initials referring to his status as a top echelon informant.
His criminal associate and friend, Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi, was also working with the FBI, according to his testimony in the case last week.
The FBI's relationship with Bulger and Flemmi were among roughly 20 top echelon informants that were handled by the Boston FBI in the 1970s and 1980s, retired FBI informant coordinator Fred Davis told the court today.
Davis described the atmosphere at the Boston FBI office as one of "paranoia."
Disgruntled agents, he said, "would be walking around mumbling about leaky agents all the time," Davis testified.
Those leaky agents were John Morris, an organized crime supervisor, and John Connolly, who grew up with Bulger and his brother, former Massachusetts Senate President William Bulger. Morris admitted on the stand that he funneled information to Bulger and Connolly is in prison for corrupt cooperation with Bulger.
"Was it common knowledge that something was amiss in the Boston office?" defense attorney Hank Brennan asked the witness.
"It seemed to be the general atmosphere that people were nervous and they were highly deferential to Mr. Morris and Mr. Connolly," Davis answered. "Even at the highest level."
Davis said there were high-ranking FBI officials in Washington D.C. who knew of the allegations of corruption coming from the Boston field office.
"Did they ever take steps on Connolly?" asked Brennan.
"Not to my knowledge, no," Davis replied.
If Bulger does not take the stand, the jury could get the case as early as Friday, prosecutors said.