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Feds dispute Bulger claim immunity grant includes homicides

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 7:27 p.m.

BOSTON — A federal prosecutor told a judge on Wednesday that any immunity agreement reputed gangster James “Whitey” Bulger claims he had with the government would be “void as a matter of law” if it included murder.

Bulger's lawyer argued that only a jury, not a judge, should be allowed to decide if Bulger's immunity claim is valid.

Both sides presented arguments to U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns, who is scheduled to preside at Bulger's trial in June. The former leader of the Winter Hill Gang is accused of participating in 19 murders during the 1970s and '80s.

Bulger, 83, fled Boston in 1994 and was one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives until his capture in Santa Monica, Calif., in 2011.

Bulger claims federal prosecutor Jeremiah O'Sullivan gave him immunity for crimes while Bulger was providing the FBI information on local leaders of his gang's main rivals, the Mafia. O'Sullivan, who died in 2009, denied making an immunity deal with Bulger when he testified before Congress in 2002.

Federal prosecutors asked Stearns to decide the issue before trial. They have previously called Bulger's claim “absurd.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Hafer told the judge that even if Bulger is to be believed, as a matter of law, an assistant U.S. attorney doesn't have the authority to grant anyone immunity to kill Americans.

“Any contract between Mr. O'Sullivan and Mr. Bulger — to the extent it contemplated murder — would be void as a matter of law against public policy,” Hafer said.

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