Lawyers for accused mass murderer James "Whitey" Bulger are defending their plan to call several local journalists as witnesses — saying they might be able to challenge dubious claims that arise at trial. But one of the journalists involved claims that explanation is bogus.
The defense’s witness list includes Boston Globe reporters Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy, former Globe staffers Gerry O’Neill and Dick Lehrer, and Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr, all of whom have written books about Bulger. Bulger’s attorney, J.W. Carney, say the journalists have interviewed other potential witnesses likely to be called by the prosecution – and could challenge their accounts if they distort or exaggerate in an attempt to aide the government’s case.
If they stay on the witness list, though, the aforementioned journalists may* be barred from sitting in the courtroom, and won’t be able to report on the trial. According to Murphy – who recently co-authored a book on the Bulger saga with Cullen – that’s what Bulger really wants.
"Kevin Cullen and I have been covering this case since the 1980s," Murphy tells WGBH. "Kevin was part of the team that broke the fact that Whitey Bulger was an FBI informant. I traveled to Iceland to find the woman whose tip led to his capture."
"He wants to pretend like we don’t have any expertise that the public has a right to hear," Murphy. "What it really is about is, he hates us. He’s called me words that I can’t say on camera, in letters that he wrote to a friend, which we obtained, and he’s called Kevin Cullen a lowlife. So if he hates us that much, and thinks we’re such awful people, how does he think we’re going to help him?"
The Globe’s attorney, Jonathan Albano, is urging Judge Denise Casper to let Murphy and Cullen stay in court as the trial unfolds. Albano argues that the public has a right to their expertise – and that the accounts they’ve obtained from other witnesses couldn’t possibly be tainted by watching the deliberations, because they’ve already been set down in print.
Judge Casper has yet to make a decision.
*CORRECTION: This story originally stated that the journalists will be barred from the courtroom if they remain on the defense's witness list. While that outcome is anticipated, it will only occur if and when the judge issues a sequestration order.