BOSTON — James “Whitey” Bulger is charged with a litany of crimes — including participating in 19 murders — during what prosecutors describe as a decadeslong reign of “murder and mayhem.”
But Bulger’s lawyers have spent much of their energy defending their client against something he doesn’t face criminal charges for: being a longtime FBI informant.
The defense has vehemently denied the prosecution’s claim that Bulger was an informant, going so far as to say his Irish heritage would prohibit such a thing.
They’ve also spent hours trying to discredit a 700-page FBI file that prosecutors say shows Bulger ratted on everyone from mobsters in the Italian Mafia to members of his own gang.
The defense strategy may be coming from Bulger himself.
In “Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought him to Justice,” a book published this year, Boston Globe reporters Shelley Murphy and Kevin Cullen include excerpts from letters Bulger wrote to a friend from jail saying he wants to show the world that he did not kill women and he was not a rat.
“I never put one person in prison in my life,” he wrote in one of his letters.
During his opening statement to the jury, Bulger’s lead attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., referring to Bulger’s Irish descent, said becoming an informant was “the worst thing an Irish person could consider doing” because of the history of The Troubles, a violent 30-year conflict in Ireland between Catholics and Protestants that left more than 3,600 people dead.
“James Bulger never ever — the evidence will show — was an informant,” Carney said. Instead, he said, Bulger paid FBI agents to protect him from being prosecuted.
Another Bulger attorney, Hank Brennan, has focused on Bulger’s informant file, suggesting it was fabricated by former FBI Agent John Connolly, who was convicted of racketeering and second-degree murder for leaking information to Bulger and his partner, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi.