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Relatives of Bulger's victims likely to speak at sentencing

Former mob boss and fugitive James "Whitey" Bulger, who was arrested in Santa Monica, California on June 22, 2011 along with his longtime gi
Former mob boss and fugitive James "Whitey" Bulger, who was arrested in Santa Monica, California on June 22, 2011 along with his longtime gi

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - More than a dozen relatives of James "Whitey" Bulger's murder victims hope to testify at the convicted mob boss' sentencing hearing in November, U.S. prosecutors told a judge on Tuesday.

Bulger, 84, faces the possibility of life in prison after being convicted last month of 31 criminal counts, including 11 murders he committed or ordered while running Boston's notorious "Winter Hill" crime gang in the '70s and '80s.

Prosecutors intend to submit statements from family members of all 19 people Bulger was accused of killing or ordering murdered, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Kelly told U.S. District Judge Denise Casper. The jury found Bulger guilty on 11 of those murder charges.

Bulger was not present in court on Tuesday. His sentencing is scheduled for November 13 and 14. Casper said she expected any family members of victims who testify to control their anger.

"I understand, inevitably, that it will be very difficult for the family members who choose to speak to speak and express the sadness, the loss and, yes, the anger they feel," Casper said. "But particularly in regard to the last emotion, anger, I would just note that...I tried very hard during the trial to maintain a certain decorum in this trial and I will try to continue to do that."

Jurors heard several profane exchanges between Bulger and his former criminal associates, many of whom received reduced sentences for their crimes in exchange for testifying against their former boss.

'WHATEVER IS IN MY HEART'

Steve Davis, whose sister, Debra, was among the eight people Bulger was not found guilty of killing, said he hoped to be among the family members called to speak.

"I'll say whatever comes to mind and whatever is in my heart at the time," Davis said after the hearing, adding he planned to speak even if he was not formally called. "I'm going to find a way to say what I feel...If I have to stand up and say it, I will."

Sentencing hearings provide a chance for victims' families to speak of a crime's emotional toll.

At the June 2012 sentencing of Bulger's girlfriend, Catherine Greig, who was found guilty of harboring the gangster as a fugitive during their life on the lam, survivors of Bulger's victims called her a "cold-hearted criminal" and a "bitch."

U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock allowed those outbursts to be made, but afterward told Greig he was sorry she had to hear the "crude, cruel," statements before sentencing her to eight years in prison.

Bulger will also have the opportunity to speak at his sentencing hearing. He did not take the stand during the trial, telling Judge Casper, "as far as I'm concerned ... this is a sham."

His trial capped off one of Boston's longest-running crime dramas. Bulger rose to power from a South Boston housing project, aided by corrupt FBI agents who turned a blind eye to his crimes in exchange for information on other gangs.

He fled the city in 1994 after an agent tipped him off that his arrest was imminent. Bulger eluded capture for about 16 years before the Federal Bureau of Investigation caught up with him living in a seaside apartment in Santa Monica, California with a stockpile of weapons and more than $800,000 in cash.

Witnesses at the trial recounted incidents from an era in Boston when machine-gun-toting gangsters murdered associates and innocent bystanders in brazen daytime hits and buried their victims' bodies in vacant lots.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

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