Tuesday August 7, 2012

BOSTON (AP) -- Former Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger will take the stand in his own defense when he goes on trial next year on charges that he participated in 19 murders, testifying about his claim that he was given immunity, his attorney said Monday.

Attorney J.W. Carney Jr. said in court that Bulger will testify about his claim that he was given immunity for any crimes he committed while he was a top-echelon FBI infor mant against the Mafia.

"James Bulger will testify at this trial and he will present evidence, corroborated by others, that he received immunity from the Department of Justice," Carney said.

Carney had said he planned to file a motion to dismiss the charges against Bulger based on his immunity claim. But he said he no longer plans to file such a motion because Bulger believes he can get a fairer hearing from a jury on the immunity claim than he can from the judge who is to preside at his trial.

Carney had unsuccessfully tried to have U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns recused from the March 2013 trial because Stearns was a top federal prosecutor in the 1980s, when Bulger allegedly was committing crimes with impunity while also acting as an informant. The defense has said Stearns -- who was head of the U.S. attorney's criminal division during part of the ‘80s -- would try to shield his former colleagues and could not be impartial.

Stearns has said he would not step down. In a written order last month, he said he had no doubt about his ability to remain impartial, noting he was never involved in the prosecution of a case in which Bulger was a subject or target.

Bulger, the former leader of the notorious Winter Hill Gang, fled Boston in 1994 after receiving a warning through his former FBI handler that he was about to be indicted.

Bulger, now 82, was captured last year in Santa Monica, Calif., after 16 years on the run.

Carney said in court that it was not the FBI who gave Bulger immunity, but he would not identify who within the Department of Justice allegedly made him such a promise.

Former Boston FBI Agent John Connolly Jr. was convicted of racketeering in 2002 for allegedly providing the tip that prompted Bulger to flee. The corrupt relationship between Bulger and the FBI was an embarrassment for the agency and led some critics to charge that the FBI didn't try hard to find Bulger while he was a fugitive. The FBI has vehemently denied that.