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Judge considers range of victims for Bulger sentencing

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By USA Today
Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, 8:21 p.m.
 

BOSTON — When a jury in August found Boston Mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger guilty of 11 murders and 31 racketeering counts, the verdict left eight families hungry for more justice. Their loved ones' deaths, the jury found, couldn't be tied to Bulger.

Now, with Bulger's sentencing hearing coming up in federal court on Wednesday, these frustrated survivors might get the last word. Prosecutors hope at least some of them will get to tell the court how Bulger victimized them.

That prospect, however, has at least one juror crying foul, defense attorneys pushing back and legal experts warning that such an uncommon procedure could backfire by strengthening Bulger's grounds for appeal.

Judge Denise Casper is considering a prosecution request to permit “all victims” to give impact statements at the upcoming hearing.

Bulger's attorneys have fired back, urging the court to “reject the United States Attorney's Office's invitation to disrupt the findings of the jury.”

Bulger trial juror Janet Uhlar has asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to investigate what she calls “a threat to U.S. jurisprudence.”

Legal experts say Casper has discretion to permit a narrow or wide range of impact statements. They add that no matter who's permitted to speak, 84-year-old Bulger is all but certain to spend the rest of his days in prison. Prosecutors are asking for two consecutive life sentences, plus five years, in accordance with sentencing guidelines.

To allow victim impact statements from those not linked to the defendant's crimes would be extremely rare, according to Michael Coyne, associate dean of Massachusetts School of Law in Andover.

If the prosecution prevails, the government's image might get a boost among those who were hurt, especially during the 1970s and '80s by Bulger's Winter Hill Gang, Coyne said. Such victims have long resented how the government did little to bring the gangsters to justice, instead taking bribes and agreeing to generous deals with Bulger associates.

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