BOSTON (AP) — Gangster James "Whitey" Bulger cannot present evidence to a jury about his claim that he was given immunity for future crimes, including murder, a federal judge ruled Monday, calling Bulger's contention that he had a license to kill "beyond the pale."
U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns found that an immunity agreement "cannot as a matter of public policy license future criminal conduct."
"The court concludes that any grant of prospective immunity to commit murder was without authorization and is hence unenforceable under any circumstance," Stearns wrote.
He also wrote, "A license to kill is even further beyond the pale and one unknown even in the earliest formulations of the common law."
Stearns, however, did not immediately rule on Bulger's claim that he received immunity for past crimes.
"Without knowledge of the date of the alleged agreement, however, the court is unable to say whether this determination nullifies defendant's claim of immunity in its entirety (again, assuming proof of its existence)," he wrote.
Stearns gave lawyers additional time to submit written arguments and indicated he will hold a pretrial hearing on Bulger's claim of immunity for past crimes.
Bulger, the former leader of the Winter Hill Gang, is accused of participating in 19 killings. His trial is scheduled to begin June 6.
The ruling was a blow to Bulger's lawyers, who want to use the claim of immunity as their defense during his trial.
They blasted the ruling and said Bulger's right to a fair trial "is at stake by this decision."
Attorneys J.W. Carney Jr. and Hank Brennan said the federal government "has done everything in its power over the past 25 years to cover up the relationship between James Bulger and Federal law enforcement officials."
"The Federal government, including attorneys who worked for the D.O.J. during this period, desperately want to conceal this sordid history from the jury, the victims, and the public," they said in a statement. "Today's decision is another step toward that goal."
Bulger, now 83, was a fugitive for 16 years after fleeing Boston in late 1994 just before he was indicted. He was captured in Santa Monica, Calif., in June 2011.
Bulger, who authorities say worked as an FBI informant while he was committing crimes, claims he received immunity from federal prosecutor Jeremiah O'Sullivan, who died in 2009.