Bulger's Attorneys Clam Up During Sentencing Hearing

, The National Law Journal

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Carney & Bassil's Hank Brennan
Carney & Bassil's Hank Brennan

During a morning of emotional and angry victim statements, a lawyer for accused mobster James “Whitey” Bulger announced that his client had directed his attorneys to hold their tongues during his “sham” sentencing for racketeering and conspiracy, including 11 murders.

In August, a jury found Bulger guilty of extortion, money laundering, firearms offenses, plus racketeering charges based on 11 of counts of murder, drug offenses, extortion and money laundering. His trial detailed corruption in the Boston FBI office during his criminal reign during the 1970s and 1980s.

One of his lawyers, Hank Brennan, of counsel to Boston’s Carney & Bassil, told U.S. District Judge Denise Casper of Boston that “Bulger has made clear … [that] he believes the trial is a sham. He has directed us not to participate in that process.”

Casper asked Brennan whether he or J.W. Carney Jr. of Boston’s Carney & Bassil had any objections to the government’s sentencing report. Brennan replied, “I refrain from saying there are no objections. The client has been clear at his behest not to participate in that process.”

Casper said she viewed that decision as a waiver of any objection.

The government seeks life in prison on most counts. For two firearms counts, it seeks consecutive terms of life in prison plus five years.

Asked near the end of Wednesday’s hearing whether he had any statement to offer, Bulger stood up, answered, “No,” and sat down.

Casper plans to formally impose a sentence on Thursday. On Wednesday, she overruled Bulger’s objections to testimony by family members of victims of killings in which the jury deemed Bulger’s guilt not proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

The judge acknowledged that the Crime Victims' Rights Act doesn’t give such individuals the right to speak, but added that she would allow them anyway under “the broad mandate and scope of Title 18,” the U.S. criminal code.

The testimony began with Sean McGonagle, whose father, Paul, Bulger killed in 1974, addressing Bulger as “Satan.”

“You’re a domestic terrorist fueled by greed and a sickening ego,” McGonagle said.

Bulger looked down and wrote on a pad of paper as the victims spoke. Two speakers called him out for that, including Patrick Callahan. His father, John, was a Miami gambling executive whose death Bulger ordered in 1982. “You won’t even turn around and look at us, you coward,” Callahan said.

Casper allowed two government forfeiture motions. One is for a $25.2 million based on testimony about money Bulger made from extortion, drugs and bookmaking. The other covers the assets seized upon his June 2011 arrest in Santa Monica, Calif., including nearly $822,000, numerous firearms and personal property including jewelry and electronics.

Bulger’s refusal to participate is unlikely to make a difference in sentencing or on appeal, said Allison Burroughs, a partner at Boston’s Nutter Mclennen & Fish and a former federal prosecutor who isn’t involved in the case. Although Bulger could potentially file an appeal, reversal of sentences that fall within the guideline range are unlikely, she said.

“I don't think it’ll make any difference at all in the sentencing, and if it does it’s so at the margins compared with what the sentence is likely to be,” Burroughs said.

Sheri Qualters can be contacted at squalters@alm.com.

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