Would a Whitey 'License to Kill' Defense Hold Up?

By Emily Rooney

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June 26, 2012

 
BOSTON — Attorneys for James "Whitey" Bulger got a four-month extension for the mobster’s trial, which is now scheduled for early March 2013. But one former U.S. attorney said that if Bulger’s defense is that his crimes were protected by his informant status with the FBI, it probably won’t work.
 
Bulger was never indicted for any of the 19 murders he’s now accused of committing while he was an informant for the FBI. His attorney J.W. Carney said that’s because Bulger had immunity. However, former U.S. Attorney Donald Stern said no form of immunity covers murder.
 
"It would be unprecedented," he said. "Even if there was such a deal, to, if you will, give a license to kill, prospectively — immunity is typically given, when it's given at all, for crimes that have already happened."
 
Stern also said it’s the same tactic Bulger cohort Steven "The Rifleman" Flemmi tried when he was on trial — and it didn’t work then.
 
"What Jay Carney is doing here is a variation of what was tried unsuccessfully with Flemmi. Reading between the lines, I think he was saying that the prosecutors knew about the criminal activity of Bulger and de facto essentially gave him immunity," Stern said.
 
Back in 1998, then–FBI agent John Connolly told WGBH’s Greater Boston that the FBI was consumed with bringing down La Cosa Nostra, with Bulger’s help, and for that reason essentially turned a blind eye to anything Bulger did, including murder.
 
When asked whether he had ever asked Bulger if he'd killed anyone, Connolly responded, "Well, why would I do that? He was a source. The top-echelon criminal informant program was geared towards developing top-echelon mobsters, primarily Mafia members, who by definition have all killed at least once."
 
Connolly was later convicted of racketeering and obstruction of justice for tipping off Whitey that he was about to be indicted. For that reason alone, Stern did not believe Connolly’s testimony would benefit Bulger.
 
"Connolly has been found guilty of having been engaged in a corrupt relationship between handler and informant," Stern said. "That corrupt relationship was extensive, it included Connolly's protecting Bulger and Flemmi for a significant period of time and there's evidence, obviously, that John Connolly received gifts and other things of monetary value during that relationship. What the incentive would be at this point may be simply to protect somebody who he thought had protected him in the past."

> > Hear more of the conversation with Donald Stern

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