Although Bulger has pleaded “not guilty” to 32 criminal counts in this federal case, lead defense attorney Jay Carney’s opening statement included some startling words.
“Bulger was involved in criminal activities in Boston,” Mr. Carney said, mentioning loan-sharking, illegal sports betting, and drug dealing as examples. “That’s what he did.”
And Bulger was able to make “millions upon millions” by conducting these activities and by giving generous payments to corrupt police and FBI personnel, Carney added.
Where does that line of defense lead?
First, it’s an effort cast doubt on law-enforcement witnesses, by suggesting that it was only through rampant corruption that Bulger was able to avoid indictment for so long.
Second, the defense will seek to dismantle the credibility of Bulger’s former colleagues as witnesses. (Carney implied that they’ve lightened their own punishments by being ready to tell lies about Bulger and his former FBI handler, John Connolly.)
Third, Carney appears set to cast Bulger as a bad guy, but not that bad a guy – not guilty, for instance, of all 19 alleged murders.
If successful, that defense could not only lighten Bulger’s sentence but perhaps keep alive some fragment of the legend – once believed by some locals – that he was a kind of Robin Hood gangster, looking out for his community even as he profited from its seamier side.