‘Whitey’ Bulger juror has second thoughts about murder convictions
James “Whitey” Bulger will appear in court Wednesday to hear the families of his victims speak before he is sentenced, but one of the jurors who decided his fate said she wished she hadn’t helped convict him of any murders.
Janet Uhlar, juror No. 12, lives in the Cape Cod town of Eastham, where she writes books about figures from the Revolutionary War. In an interview, she said she had learned things since the trial that had made her question the verdict, including the deals Bulger accomplices got in order to testify. Uhlar is also disappointed that families of purported victims may be allowed to testify Wednesday, even though the jury had decided there was not enough evidence to tie their deaths to Bulger.
“I think if I had it in front of me now, I would have held out on some of those counts,” she said. Specifically, she would have found Bulger guilty on racketeering and gun possession charges, but not on any of the murder charges.
Uhlar said the government had not been held accountable for its role. She said the FBI allegedly knew about some of the killings beforehand because of a rogue agent who is now behind bars. She believes the prosecution is trying to make Bulger more of a monster to cover up its own role in the killings.
“I feel like the whole thing is being twisted to make it more palatable to the public,” she said about the hearing Wednesday. “In truth, it’s a violation of our judicial system.”
Bulger, now 84, was captured in Santa Monica in 2011 after being on the run for 16 years. He was charged with 33 crimes, including extortion, money laundering, possession of machine guns and 19 murders.
He committed almost all of the crimes while an informant for the FBI. During his trial, the defense tried to argue that he had been given immunity because of his role as an informant, and thus was not accountable. On Aug. 12, a federal court jury in Boston convicted Bulger of most of the crimes, including 11 murders.
Bulger will appear Wednesday and Thurday for his sentencing hearing. Prosecutors have called for two consecutive life sentences, saying he has “no redeeming qualities.”
U.S. District Judge Denise J. Casper is allowing the families of victims to speak, as well as lawyers for both sides. The families of victims not included in the conviction have also asked to speak; Casper has not yet ruled whether they will be permitted to do so.
Uhlar said she was deeply changed by the trial and still had nightmares. Most disturbing, she said, was the level of government corruption that had led to Bulger having free rein in Boston - corruption that she said the government had not owned up to.
“I’ll never be the same,” she said. “I’ve never been one to believe in conspiracy theories, but I realize that the coverup is so deep and wide that I have a problem trusting anyone now.”
Uhlar is especially troubled by the deals given to Bulger accomplices such as John Martorano, who admitted killing 20 people but who served just 12 years in prison and now lives a regular life. Martorano pulled the trigger in many of the murders for which Bulger was convicted.
“If the prosecution is so concerned about these families, how do they explain that the one who killed their loved ones is living a normal life now?” Uhlar asked.
Uhlar is also frustrated by the cost of trying Bulger – both to taxpayers and to the jurors who had to give up their lives during the two-month trial. In a letter from prison, Bulger said recently that he had volunteered to plead guilty and skip the trial, in exchange for leniency for his girlfriend, Catherine Greig. Uhlar wishes the government had accepted that deal. She has written a letter to the House and Senate judiciary committees asking them to investigate.
Uhlar plans to attend the sentencing hearing Wednesday, making the two-hour drive each way, just as she did during the trial.
“I feel like I was responsible for the verdict,” she said. “I should be there for the sentencing. We all should be there.”
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