Bulger asks for gag order to be lifted amid trial
James “Whitey” Bulger wants to tell his side of the story – outside the courtroom.
Defense attorneys in Bulger’s high-profile racketeering trial filed a motion Saturday saying a gag order is infringing on their client’s constitutional rights of free speech effective assistance of counsel.
The defense asks federal Judge Denise Casper to lift the gag order, citing “personal attacks” against their client in the media and “an enormous degree of media attention and public discourse.”
“The defendant has no voice in this discourse. He is a prisoner of the federal government,” Bulger’s attorneys wrote.
“The defendant is a mere bystander in the heated public conversation surrounding his life and trial.”
The 83-year-old Bulger is accused of playing a role in 19 murders during the 1970s and ’80s while allegedly running the Winter Hill Gang. He has pleaded not guilty.
In a response filed yesterday, prosecutors called Bulger’s request strange and note he is free to tell his story by testifying.
Bulger can “exercise his actual voice from the witness stand if he so chooses – subject of course to cross-examination,” prosecutors wrote.
The response notes that Bulger spent considerable time before the trial trying to bar some reporters from the courtroom but now complains he has no voice in the media.
Bulger’s attorneys said the gag order should be lifted so their client can more easily respond to negative coverage.
“Prominent local newspapers have launched personal attacks against him on a regular basis,” they wrote.
Meanwhile, press conferences involving prosecution witnesses have become a common occurrence, according to Bulger’s attorneys, including one featuring a retired Massachusetts State Police colonel, Thomas Foley.
“Colonel Foley was one of the lead investigators pursuing Mr. Bulger and is for all practical purposes a member of the prosecution team,” they wrote.
The government’s response said lifting the gag order would foster a “carnival atmosphere” during trial. It also noted that the website for Bulger’s lead attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., calls him an expert in using enhanced media attention for his client’s benefit.
“The jurors in this case have been repeatedly warned by the Court to avoid media accounts of the pending trial,” prosecutors wrote. “Yet Bulger’s motion essentially seeks to influence the jury by creating positive press coverage – something the jurors are duty bound to ignore!”
It was not clear when Casper would rule on the request.