Bulger, the former leader of the Winter Hill Gang, is accused of playing a role in 19 murders. After spending 16 years on the run as one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives, Bulger, now 83, was captured last year in Santa Monica, Calif.
His trial is scheduled to begin in March, but his lawyers say they need more time to prepare. They were scheduled to make arguments Thursday to U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns, who has twice rejected a defense request that he recuse himself from Bulger’s trial.
Bulger’s lawyers say Stearns should not preside at the trial because he was a federal prosecutor during a time in which Bulger claims he was given immunity for crimes he committed while he was also an FBI informant on the Mafia, his gang’s main rival.
Bulger’s lead attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., has said Bulger plans to testify about his claim that Jeremiah O’Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor who led the New England Organized Crime Strike Force, gave him immunity. O’Sullivan, who died in 2009, denied protecting Bulger from prosecution for violent crimes during his testimony to Congress in 2002.
In a written response denying Carney’s motion for the second time, Stearns said there is no connection between his former position as chief of the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s office and the organized crime strike force.
Prosecutors are opposed to the request to move the trial date to next November. In a written response filed in court Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly said the defense has an "obvious strategy of delaying the trial at all costs."
Kelly called Bulger’s immunity claim "absurd" and said his decision to flee Massachusetts is "entirely inconsistent" with someone who believed he had immunity.
"Obviously, James Bulger never once thought he had legal immunity for his crimes and that is why he remained a fugitive for so long," Kelly wrote.